When preparing for major surgery, most responsible patients take great care in selecting the doctor who will operate. They research the doctor’s education and success record, view his profile through the state of Illinois to make sure he has not been disciplined or been the subject of multiple medical malpractice actions, and talk to the surgeon himself to make sure. But what happens when you take all these steps, only to learn after your surgery that the doctor you picked abandoned you and your surgery to another doctor, or to medical residents?
Shockingly, this happens all the time. At times, this surgeon-switch is necessary: a true emergency pulls the selected surgeon away. At other times, portions of the procedure are carried out by residents in the presence and under the careful supervision of the surgeon the patient selected, a practice considered ethical so long as the actual surgeon remains present at all times, and the patient is informed in advance.
But with increasing frequency, a well-respected surgeon promises to perform a patient’s surgery and simply chooses not to, without informing the patient or gaining her consent. At times, the promised surgeon will then appear, clad in surgical scrubs, to inform the family of the results of the procedure – a practice considered unethical and deceptive by surgical experts such as the American College of Surgeons, and the medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell.
Although there is much anecdotal evidence for surgeon “bait and switch” – and its increasing frequency – there are no actual data on how often this practice occurs, because the practice is not reported or tracked.
However, there are an increasing number of medical malpractice actions arising from this deceptive practice. This is because when an experienced, renowned, competent surgeon passes a surgery off to a less-competent physician, the results are often harmful or disastrous. Patients are left dead, or with permanent disabilities or the need for a lifetime of medical monitoring or devices such as pacemakers. Only then do they, their family, or their attorney obtain their medical records and learn that the surgeon they were promised was not even in the room at the time of surgery.
The practice is known to occur here in Chicago, even at our city’s most-respected medical facilities. This summer, a Northwestern Memorial Hospital urologist was sued for promising to perform a patient’s kidney surgery and then passing the procedure off to another doctor. And Rush University Medical Center was the subject of a 2004 whistleblower lawsuit – by a surgeon at the facility – accusing the facility of billing Medicare for surgeries performed by unsupervised residents.
If you or a loved one has had serious complications as a result of surgery, it is important to have a qualified professional conduct a full review of your medical records. Often physicians and hospitals will present these tragic outcomes as an unfortunate but unavoidable complication – but a full review of the records reveals that the problems were actually the result of impermissible practices such as surgeon “bait and switch.”
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.