Deadly Surgery Center Doctors Swap Patients’ Lives for Profits

Planning on scheduling an upcoming surgery? If your doctor refers you to a surgery center, you may want to think twice.

Each year, thousands of patients are transported from surgery centers to hospitals with life-threatening emergencies. Hundreds die. Choosing to schedule an operation at a hospital versus a surgery center can be a life and death decision.

Before you sign up for a quick procedure at a surgery center, ask yourself three questions:

  • What is my risk level?
  • How close is the nearest hospital?
  • Is my doctor part-owner of this surgery center?

Surgery Centers Ditch Emergency Equipment for Cheaper Services

Same-day surgery centers started in the 70’s as an inexpensive alternative for patients who needed the most basic surgeries. Because they only performed minor surgeries, they could hire fewer staff and purchase less emergency equipment, making everything affordable for insurers and patients.

This approach worked great in the past. But two things have recently changed that have essentially turned surgical centers into death traps.

Medicare Approving Higher Risk Procedures for Surgery Centers

First, after learning that surgery centers reduce federal health care costs, Medicare is now approving more and more complex procedures for surgery centers, all of which come with higher risk for emergencies.

During any surgery, patients run the risk of adverse reactions to anesthesia, complications from underlying health conditions, blood loss, breathing problems, the list goes on. Hospitals are prepared to handle these emergencies.

But many of the over 5,600 U.S. surgery centers aren’t. Poor emergency resources take even routine operations like tonsillectomies or appendectomies to life-threatening levels.

For example, Medicare has added over 10 types of complex spine surgeries since 2015. A recent USA Today / Kaiser Health News study found that at least 14 people have died from spinal procedures conducted in U.S. surgery centers in the past two years.

Surgery Center Doctors Escape Stark Law Regulations

Second, Congress decided in 1993 to entice doctors to open surgery centers by excluding them from Stark Law regulations.

Most doctors are not allowed to mix financial interests with patient care. The Stark Law prevents doctors from referring patients to their own businesses for treatment.

Now, doctors who own surgery centers can refer patients to their surgery centers based on financial interest rather than patient need. A dangerous practice.

Today, 90% of surgery centers are partially owned by doctors – who collect personal fees plus part of the surgery center’s fees. To get these fees, doctors can refer patients for medically unnecessary surgeries, or can refer high risk patients to have surgery in a facility too poorly equipped to handle potential emergencies.

High Risk Patients Most Vulnerable to Surgery Center Dangers

“High risk” patients are patients with pre-existing conditions that make the body more sensitive to anesthesia and the shock of surgery. High risk patients include those with sleep apnea, obesity, heart conditions, diabetes, respiratory problems and elderly patients, among others.

Surgery center doctors are bypassing risk assessments to get these patients into their facilities. In 2015 and 2016, inspectors reported 122 surgery centers for lack of risk assessment, some doing no risk assessment at all.

The USA Today / Kaiser Health study found that at least 25 high risk patients with pre-existing medical problems have died after discharge from surgery centers since 2013. Six died with such a high risk score that some states wouldn’t have allowed a surgery center to perform surgery on them in the first place.

Surgery Centers Must Dial 911 To Address Complications

Because these centers are so severely lacking in emergency equipment, they call 911 when an emergency arises. This takes the response time down by a critical 20 to 30 minutes or more, depending on how far the facility is from a hospital.

Surgery centers called 911 for an ambulance at least 7,000 times in fiscal year 2017. While there is no firm number on deaths coming out of surgery centers, the USA Today / Kaiser study found that over 260 patients have died after procedures at non-hospital surgery centers in the last 5 years– a completely unacceptable average of 52 deaths per year.

Surgery centers also want to send patients home quickly, failing to monitor them through the critical post-op hours. Dozens of the patients examined in the USA Today / Kaiser study died after routine operations like tonsillectomies or colonoscopies.

Consider Current Health, Hospital Location, Doctor Ownership

Every surgery comes with risks, no matter what type of facility you go to. Hospitals are always the safer option when it comes to surgery. However, if your doctor refers you to a surgery center, consider your health risk.

Obese patients, elderly patients, and patients with pre-existing medical conditions should avoid surgeries in non-hospital settings.

You should also be concerned about your physician having a financial interest in the recommended facility. Ask if your doctor is part owner of the facility. If yes, ask yourself if you really need the surgery, get a second opinion if possible, and consider going to a hospital for the surgery.

If you are leaning toward a surgery center, always look up its distance from the closest hospital. If a hospital is over 15 miles away from the facility, consider having your procedure done at the hospital instead.

Doctors Deny Wrongdoing, Blame Patients for Death

When injured victims or surviving family members decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against a surgery center, the doctors, Medicare and private insurance companies will deny any wrongdoing, claiming that:

  • The death was the result of a medical abnormality beyond the doctors’ control
  • The patient had unknown pre-existing conditions
  • These types of fatal complications are common with this surgery
  • The patient acted negligently and caused his own death

If you have been injured by a surgery center doctor, it is important to seek out an experienced medical malpractice attorney to ensure you collect your rightful compensation, including costs to cover medical and /or funeral expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of companionship and punitive damages.

Were you or a loved one injured after surgery in a non-hospital surgery center in South Florida? Learn more about how to file a Florida medical malpractice lawsuit in our free Guide To Florida Medical Malpractice Lawsuits.

Our Fort Lauderdale medical malpractice attorneys help victims of surgery center malpractice collect financial compensation for the negligent acts of South Florida surgery centers like:

  • Memorial Same Day Surgery Center
  • Surgery Center of Ft. Lauderdale
  • Surgery Center of Aventura
  • Broward Specialty Surgical Center
  • Aesthetics Surgery Center
  • Oband Surgery Center
  • miVIP Surgery Center
  • Spine Surgery Center
  • Surgery Center of Coral Springs
  • South Florida Weight Loss Surgery Center

If you have more questions about Florida surgery center lawsuits, feel free to call and speak with me or any of our Kelley Uustal Fort Lauderdale medical malpractice lawyers at 954.522.6601 or Connect Online


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