Monday, December 2, 2002

From the American Prowler:

Doctors letting doctors perform malpractice

But this group of doctors, who were surgeons, and who performed operations in a number of local hospitals, began to get disturbing information back from the hospital operating theaters. At first, it just looked like patient complications were becoming more frequent. Then it became more obvious that the increased complications could be traced to surgeries performed by the new partner, Doctor X.

The most common post-op problems were misplaced stitches, resulting in torn tissues, and requiring repeat surgeries. The misplaced stitches caused infections, too, and often permanently damaged tissues that surgery was supposed to repair. As the partners investigated, they found the same patient names showing up for post-op complications again and again -- Doctor X's patients. They questioned their office staff. The patients complained of similar problems. They checked the charts. Doctor X had falsified the patients' charts, indicating in the written record that there were no problems. And Doctor X was covering up mistakes by removing the offending stitches in the offices, without recording it.

.....As competent and accomplished as doctors are, there are some things they don't do well at all. Management or employee confrontation rank right up there among the things that doctors really hate, and do very badly. These partners consulted a lawyer. They eventually asked Doctor X to stop doing surgeries. They eventually asked Doctor X to leave the practice.

But here's where the story gets maddening. You'd think it would be pro forma for the partners to register a formal complaint with the state medical authorities, who would obtain some kind of injunction to suspend Doctor X from the practice of medicine pending a full inquiry.

But no. The prospect of expensive lawsuits freezes the doctors in place. The partners fear Doctor X may sue them for defamation of character if they bring complaints. Further, they fear suits by patients against the practice itself. They cannot buy more malpractice insurance to cover the time when Doctor X practiced with them; they're stuck. The hospitals involved have made a few careful reports to state authorities, but Doctor X could sue the hospitals, too. The state medical authorities have been informed, but have taken no action yet. A few hospitals have suspended Doctor X's operating room privileges. But that's as far as it has gone, and this situation has gone on for years.

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