Surgeon accused of unnecessary surgeries
Before consenting to surgery, make sure to ask about other treatment options first
The Medical College of Wisconsin came under fire recently for hiring a cardiothoracic surgeon, despite advance warning that he had been accused of performing unnecessary surgeries at another hospital.
In the three years after the surgeon began his new practice, more and more patient complaints piled up. Some patients alleged that he did unconventional surgeries that harmed them. Others patients and even colleagues of the cardiothoracic surgeon accused him of performing surgeries that were not medically necessary. Based on information available before hiring the surgeon, I believe that this was foreseeable.
According to a federal lawsuit involving the matter, an email trail shows that the college leadership placed profit interests above patient safety. Just as bad, another surgeon alleges that the college retaliated against him when he pointed out incidents where the cardiothoracic surgeon provided sub- standard care to patients.
As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, this story caught my attention. I do not believe that the Wisconsin incident is in any way an isolated one. In fact, I am working right now on a number of cases involving surgical care all over Texas, in which surgeons recommended surgery to patients without presenting other options. In those cases, the patients took the surgeons’ advice, unwittingly consenting to unnecessary procedures, and then suffered serious injuries when the surgeries were botched.
In one case that I am currently investigating, a patient went to the hospital because of back pain. The doctor ordered a CT scan to look for spinal problems, and the results came back with an incidental finding of a small aneurysm in an abdominal-area blood vessel. An incidental finding is one that is not related to the reason for the diagnostic radiology procedure or the patient’s complaints. The doctor sent the patient to a vascular surgeon for consultation.
This aneurysm was so small that surgery was not indicated under the standard of care. Instead, our medical expert told us, a reasonable vascular surgeon would have monitor the patient for a period of time to see if the aneurysm was stable or if it was growing.
If, over time, the aneurysm grew and crossed the defined size threshold, then the vascular surgeon should use an endovascular procedure with a covered stent to strengthen the blood vessel wall in the location of aneurysm. This procedure is a less-invasive treatment option than an open surgical procedure. Under the standard of care, a vascular surgeon should only take the patient to the riskier surgical procedure if the aneurysm was unstable, of a large size, and the endovascular procedure did not work.
Instead, my client’s vascular surgeon chose not to tell his patient about the less-invasive, less-dangerous endovascular approach and, importantly, that there was no indication to do anything at all at that point other than to monitor the aneurysm. Based on the surgeon’s decision to withhold key information, the patient agreed to go to surgery. The vascular surgeon ended up encountering every conceivable complication of the procedure. The patient faced many months of hospital admissions and additional surgeries, as well as permanent injuries and impairments.
What you can do
The prospect of facing surgery is always serious and never risk free. If you or a loved one may need surgery, the time to ask thorough questions is before consenting to the procedure. The old saying goes, “If your only tool is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” In my experience, many surgeons approach their patients in this fashion.
When meeting with the surgeon about the potential need for a surgery or procedure, I recommend asking if the condition is stable and it would be reasonable to monitor the condition before proceeding with surgery. I remember speaking with the surgeon about whether a family member needed a cholecystectomy (laparoscopic surgical removal of the gallbladder) after an isolated gallbladder attack. He said that, based on the diagnostic radiology imaging, we could wait, but that it was a matter of when, not if, another gallbladder attack occurred. We decided to proceed with surgery.
In addition, ask if there are less-invasive options to consider before proceeding with surgery.
In other words, have a candid discussion with the surgeon about all of the available options: doing nothing (wait and see), taking an intermediate less-invasive approach first, and proceeding with surgery. Ask about the risks and benefits of each option, weigh them, and then make your decision.
We are here to help
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured as a result of surgical or medical malpractice, call the experienced medical negligence lawyers at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, at 281-580-8800, for free consultation about your potential case.
Robert Painter is an attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He represents patients and family members in medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. In 2017, H Texas magazine recognized him as one of Houston’s top lawyers. In the same year, the Better Business Bureau honored Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
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Published in the July/August 2018 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine