Last week Heart Wire News posted even more information about yet another doctor that has been charged with committing intentional or at least reckless medical malpractice by convincing patients to have heart stent procedures performed unnecessarily. As a Chicago medical malpractice attorney recently explained, these cases present many unique legal questions, and it will be interesting to see how the civil lawsuits filed in the wake of the scandals ultimately shake out.
The latest accusations are making national headlines as a medical malpractice lawyer has accused a doctor of improper stenting who himself was on a committee seeking to curb improper stenting. If the allegations are true, it would represent a troubling case of hypocrisy, raising many questions about the honest effort being made to actual prevent these unnecessary surgeries and keep patients safe. The latest claims were part of a new lawsuit alleging that two patients received heart stents unnecessarily in 2005 and 2006. Documents filed with the lawsuit claim that the doctor overstated the percentage of blockage in the coronary artery of one of the patients in an attempt to justify the call for surgery. If the claims are accurate the unnecessary stenting would have taken place at the same time that the doctor was a partner in a high-profile cardiovascular clinic. Another partner at the clinic already faces hundreds of medical malpractice lawsuits alleging that he acted improperly in order to convince patients to have the procedure performed.
The committee on which the newly charged doctor sits was actually set to give its findings in a public hearing of the health commission last year. Undoubtedly the allegations cast a pall over the proceedings. Part of the committee’s recommendations to curb the outburst of unnecessary procedures is having the legislature enact legislation that would require all hospitals that perform these procedures to be reviewed and evaluated based on established standards. In addition, the group suggested that the state legislature establish national accreditation standards and require that all cath labs in the state meet those standards. Interestingly, the committee did not recommend that individual physician reviews become part of the process. It is unclear why this oversight mechanism would not be encouraged, since it is individual physician conduct which is essentially at the heart of all of these latest stent implementation problems. In fact, other oversight groups have criticized the work of this task force for the inadequacy of their recommendations. One alternative body explained that “voluntary oversight provides no guarantee that all citizens…are afforded equal, high-quality healthcare.” They added that “good hospitals have nothing to hide or fear (bad ones do).”
Of course, we fully support close oversight and worthwhile documentation of physician actions when it comes to recommendations of these procedures. It should not be impossible for fair evaluation of individual physician’s work to become a part of the process to ensure that patients are not received skewed advice about their medical condition. Trust is essential to the patient-doctor relationship, and these scandals (and minimal efforts to change practices) are severely damaging to the overall trust in the relationship industry wide.
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