Medical societies should release injury/disability rates of surgeons

Doctors using a screen for data

According to a recent study found in the Journal of Patient Safety, between 210,000 and 440,000 patients die each year in U.S. hospitals due to preventable medical errors. The Wall Street Journal reports that between 46 and 65 percent of these errors are related to surgery. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know just how many individuals are negatively affected by surgical errors simply because there is currently no compulsory tracking system or program in existence to measure such data. Despite the incredibly sensitive, potentially life-altering work that surgeons perform, a Lake County personal injury lawyer sees patients routinely left unadvised about how often their surgeons make mistakes.

Incompetence is seen in every profession

As seen in every profession in the world, some individuals may not be qualified or competent enough to maintain their position. This is especially true of surgeons. While this loss of competence may be due to advancing age, increasing medical conditions that affect the surgeon’s ability to safely perform surgery, or other factors, the truth remains that some surgeons should not be allowed to practice medicine. Unfortunately, little if anything is done in the U.S. to ensure that these surgeons are eliminated and patients’ safety is finally made the number one priority.

The role of medical societies

Medical societies are a key part of the puzzle. These societies are organizations that represent specific groups of medical professionals. In the U.S., there are currently at least 14 surgical organizations in operation with varying specialties. These surgical societies provide their members with continuing education, keep them up to date about advances within their field and advocate on their behalf. They are also responsible for setting standards for excellence within the profession. However, the role of establishing excellence in the profession only extends to testing for competency every few years, not to examining actual surgeon performance.

According to a special article in the ANZ Journal of Surgery, medical societies in England have begun publishing the annual mortality data of each of its members. All in all, ten different surgical societies have been publishing the data since 2005. Although they could do more and release injury rates as well, this data has been invaluable to allowing millions of patients across the U.K. to make informed medical decision. Despite this incredible example of transparency, medical groups in the U.S. have failed to follow suit.

A threat to surgeons’ jobs

In the U.S., medical societies are comprised of and run by medical professionals within that specialty. Surgeons sit on the board of the American Board of Surgery and other surgical societies and decide how the group will function, what roles it will play for surgeons, and other details specific to the profession. It is currently in the interests of surgeons in the U.S. to keep their surgical error numbers a secret, because it may affect their incomes. Patients may seek treatment elsewhere if they know that their doctor has a high rate of injury and death. Additionally, surgeons will have to face more accountability from their hospitals and even other surgeons if these numbers are made public.

Choosing patients over surgeons

Medical societies have the ability to help truly establish the standards for excellent medical care within their specialties by collecting and distributing injury and disability data on each of its members. Surgeons who are competent and who care first for the welfare of their patients may gladly take part in the program, and those who are unwilling to do so should not have the distinction of being associated with some of these prestigious societies.  Only when patients are given a choice can they begin to protect themselves from incompetent surgeons. This may decrease surgical errors as well as prompt surgeons to become even better at their craft than they already are.

Unacceptable error rates

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, surgical never events occur more than 4,000 times each year. Never events are surgical errors that are so extreme they should never occur under any circumstances. They include operating on the wrong person, on the wrong part of the body, performing the wrong procedure and leaving a foreign object such as a sponge or clamp inside of a patient.  To get the data for the study, researchers gathered information on malpractice claims. By law, hospitals must report never events that end in settlement or judgement, so researchers were confident that this eliminated frivolous claims.

With changes in legislation over the past two decades, only the most serious and egregious medical malpractice claims are even tried. Unfortunately, a Lake County personal injury lawyer sees many patients who have been injured by a surgeon but who cannot legally try their case and seek damages. For this reason, the real number of individuals injured by surgeons is likely much higher than the reported annual 4,000.

Surgical errors affecting lives

The Orlando Sentinel reports that a 34-year-old patient was supposed to receive a vascular graft on her left leg but her surgeon performed the work on her right leg. When a nurse caught the mistake mid-surgery, the doctor then performed the correct procedure on the correct leg.  Instead of being forthcoming about the mistake, the surgeon informed the woman that the work needed to be done anyway, and that she should sign a consent form after the fact. Only later did the doctor admit that he had performed a wrong-sight surgery.

Those who have been injured due to the incompetence or error of a surgeon can successfully seek damages for all they have gone through. By contacting a Lake County personal injury lawyer, patients may receive compensation for their injuries, time away from work, and the emotional and physical pain they have had to endure.