How Many Preventable Deaths Occur at Surgery Centers in the U.S.?

Published on Jul 9, 2019 at 6:21 pm in Medical Malpractice.

When you go to a hospital for surgery, you are surrounded by medical professionals who know what they’re doing. Not only do they have complete knowledge of the surgery they’re completing and how your medical history factors in, but they also know what to do in an emergency situation. At a surgery center, that may not always be the case. While most surgical procedures at outpatient centers proceed without error, recent information has uncovered that some do not go as planned. A simple surgery at an outpatient center has the potential to turn deadly from a surgical error when something goes wrong.

What Causes Deaths at Surgery Centers?

An investigation by Kaiser Health News and USA TODAY Network revealed that more than 260 patients across the country have died after surgeries in outpatient centers since 2013. Some of these procedures were routine operations, like colonoscopies and tonsillectomies. All of these deaths were preventable had there been proper intervention.

So then why do preventable deaths occur at surgery centers in the U.S.?

  • Improper equipment. Some ambulatory surgical centers were reported to lack proper equipment, whether that be missing defibrillators for children, unfilled oxygen tanks, or not having different sizes of tracheotomy sets. Missing equipment can be the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.
  • Unskilled doctors or nurses. After some surgeries, patients are left in the care of doctors who are not specialists in what their surgery was for. For example, if a patient has spinal surgery and then was left in the care of a gastroenterologist, that doctor would not know what to look for as complications for the patient. They can end up dying because nobody present in the center knows how to properly treat them.
  • No consideration of medical history. Patients with complicated medical histories, like sleep apnea, high blood pressure, or heart transplant, should be navigated carefully when operated on. Medical history should always be considered when going in for any surgery, but some centers have overlooked their patients’ medical histories and caused their deaths.
  • Anesthesia complications. On the anesthesia risk scale, 1 is healthy and 5 is high risk. Those who are at a 4 or higher should not be operated on because they could experience severe complications. Some ambulatory centers ignore this scale and perform surgery anyway. This can cause death for the patient.
  • Delayed emergency care. Many surgery centers are not equipped for emergency situations after a surgery. So when severe complications occur during or after surgery, they call 911. By the time the ambulance arrives or transports the patient to the hospital, too much time has passed, and the patient can die.

The investigation showed that inspectors of facilities for Medicare had detected 230 lapses in rescue equipment of training regulations since 2015. They had also flagged 122 surgery centers in 2015 and 2016 for lapses in risk assessments. But this information did not get publicized, so most people didn’t know.

How Some Doctors Benefit from Surgical Centers?

Unlike most hospitals, surgical centers are privately owned. That same investigation uncovered that doctors exiled by a hospital for misconduct could open and practice at surgery centers with no problems.

Surgical centers receive $4.1 billion a year from Medicare. Oftentimes, the outpatient centers are owned by the presiding doctor, meaning that surgery costs go right into the doctor’s pocket. Federal law allows these doctors to refer patients to facilities they own rather than recommend a hospital.

Not only are the profits a problem, but so is the state by state regulation for outpatient centers in the U.S. The issue isn’t necessarily a lack of regulations, but rather that a center owned by the practicing doctor most likely does not adequately follow those regulations. Standardization in management in these facilities, along with regular inspections, could reduce the number of deaths from surgeries at surgical centers.

If you had surgery at an outpatient surgery center in or around the Baltimore area or elsewhere in Maryland that resulted in injury, lasting complications, or suffering, you may benefit from legal support. The negligent doctor or staff should be held accountable for their actions that caused your injury. Contact us today so that we can examine your case.



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