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Surgery On Sunday

Wed, 03/10/2010 - 7:54am
Amanda McGowan, editor
What are you doing on Sunday? For me, I try to make Sunday is a day for a little relaxation, perhaps running some errands or doing a little housework or spending time with family.

What are you doing on Sunday? For me, I try to make Sunday is a day for a little relaxation, perhaps running some errands or doing a little housework or spending time with family.

Sundays for Dr. Andy Moore, a plastic surgeon in Lexington, Kentucky, go a little differently. On the third Sunday of every month, Dr. Moore opens the doors of the Lexington Surgery Center to perform procedures on patients—for free.

As CNN reports, the program is called Surgery on Sunday, and it was started by Dr. Moore to provide outpatient surgical care to the uninsured patients—the “working poor” as the article says, people who don’t qualify for federal programs and can’t afford health insurance.

The program has treated more than 3,100 patients since it began in 2005. On an average Sunday, the group will treat 25 to 30 patients, and there are about 1,500 patients on the waiting list. Patients are referred by hospitals and free clinics. Most of the surgeries are gallbladders, hernias and colonoscopies, but the group performs a wide range of procedures as different surgeons perform surgeries based on their specialty.

To do this, the article reports, Moore persuaded a hospital to donate space and recruited volunteer staff members from all across the state, including anesthesiologists, nurses, receptionists and surgeons. Costs are covered by donations and private foundations.

Arguably anyone working in healthcare that learns about Dr. Moore’s program would agree it’s a positive initiative. He’s been able to help patients in desperate need of care—some so desperate that their life depends on it. They would not receive the care otherwise.

Further, I think that most surgeons reading about Dr. Moore’s efforts would like to do the same thing for their needy patients if they could.

Yet, what strikes me is how Dr. Moore and his volunteer colleagues are doing this, particularly because of how difficult it has become for surgeons to perform these procedures—even just occasionally—for a patient in need.

As Dr. Moore told CNN, when he started practicing surgery 26 years ago he would simply call the hospital and say he’s operating on a patient for free. With time, the hospital's willingness to help lessened. Insurance and computer systems made it more complex to get an uninsured, non-paying patient in the OR, regardless of circumstance.

It seems amidst the politics of healthcare reform, insurance companies, hospital reimbursement and so on, most surgeons have been stuck between a rock and a hard place—wanting to help, but not having the means to do it.

As Dr. Moore explains to CNN, he started this program because being a doctor is a service. He wants to help people, even if he gets nothing in return. I think there are many doctors out there who think along these same lines. Surgeons went into medicine to help people and to save lives. I don’t think many would tell you that they do not want to operate on a patient in critical need because of that patient’s income or insurance status. It’s just that they simply can’t due to the economics of the hospital in which they work.

I’m not about to argue sides in the healthcare debate, but I will note that according to the Census Bureau, 46.3 million people in the United States are uninsured. This inevitably means there are millions of patients out there not seeking or receiving the care they need to survive, simply because they cannot afford it.

Perhaps this story about Dr. Moore and his Surgery on Sunday program serves simply as a reminder to all of us to think about whether surgical care is a service or a privilege, and inspire those who can to think outside of the box in finding a solution to care for needy patients. There are millions of patients out there, and at the end of the day, it is still part of a doctor’s job to try to help them—insured or not—in any way possible. Even if it means giving up Sundays in order to save some lives.

Source: CNN article by Leslie Askew

For more information on Surgery on Sunday, visit the website

Have you operated on patients for free? E-mail me at amanda.mcgowan@advantagemedia.com

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