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ProPublica Finds Disturbing Information while Analyzing Complication Rates of 17,000 Surgeons

July 29, 2015  ·  By HM&M

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Since the 1999 publication of “To Err is Human,” a landmark report from the Institute of Medicine on the number of medical errors in the United States, patient safety has been at the forefront of healthcare discussions. Unfortunately, little has changed since then; a recent study from ProPublica has provided a closer (and highly disturbing) look.

ProPublica Reveals Disparity in Patient Care Among Surgeons

Medical malpractice studies are not a new concept, but ProPublica took their analysis beyond statistics as a whole; they individually examined the Medicare cases of 17,000 surgeons over the course of five years. Eight commonly performed elective procedures were examined, including knee and hip replacements, spinal fusions, prostate removals and resections, and gallbladder removals – all of which are considered routine, straightforward, and relatively low risk.

Complications were defined as blood clots, infections, misaligned orthopedic devices, or uncontrolled bleeding that either resulted in death or required readmission to a hospital within 30 days of surgery. Factors such as patient age and health were also accounted for in the analysis.

Overall, the complication rates were fairly low – about two to four percent, depending on the type of surgery. However, experts who reviewed the study strongly expressed that the typical surgeon’s rates can and should be lower. Indeed, 765 surgeons managed to record at least 50 operations with zero complications, and another 1,423 had only one major complication. Unfortunately, not every surgeon faired quite as well.

According to ProPublica, a small percentage of physicians – 11 percent – accounted for approximately a quarter of all the complications. Hundreds of others had rates that were two to three times higher than the national average. This, in and of itself, is highly concerning. Even more alarming is that no one really seems to be doing anything about it.

Current Systems a Formula for Disaster

Each year, at least 200,000 patients in America die in hospitals from preventable medical complications and errors. While there are systems designed to protect patient safety, experts and studies show that these organizations rarely investigate when they should, enforce even less frequently, and almost never suspend the privileges of physicians with poor track records. This may be due, at least in part, to personal and financial ties between physicians and organizations.

Another big problem are the cuts in health care. Physicians who spend more time with their patients are not getting paid for that extra time and so, instead of personally following up after a procedure or treatment, they may dole the responsibility out to an assistant. This creates a system in which physicians who deliver better, more involved care receive less compensation, while doctors with less involved care and more complications end up being financially rewarded for having the time to do more procedures.

No More Excuses for Medical Malpractice

Hundreds of thousands of patients are injured each and every day because of complications and medical negligence. They and their families suffer because of that negligence. Laws, procedures, and associations meant to keep physicians in check need to change, but until that happens, physicians need to be held accountable for those mistakes.

Our Chicago, Illinois medical malpractice lawyers are dedicated to ensuring victims of medical negligence receive the best possible compensation. They are prepared to fight for your rights, and the rights of your loved ones.

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