Surgery centers around the country are often seen as a cheaper alternative for quick in-and-out procedures. The reality is that thousands of patients have suffered adverse events while undergoing surgery at these centers, according to an investigation by Kaiser Health News and the USA TODAY Network.
Journalists around the nation looked into data on the roughly 5,600 surgery centers across the country and found that more than 260 patients have died at these centers since 2013. Many of them died during routine operations like colonoscopies and tonsillectomies.
In New Jersey alone, dozens of patients died since reporting first started in 2008. Thousands of others suffered adverse events, which can include falling into a coma and other severe injuries.
The numbers may actually be significantly higher. Only about half of New Jersey’s 300 surgery centers must issue reports to the Patient Safety Reporting System. Thanks to a law signed by former Gov. Chris Christie, all surgery centers will be overseen by the state’s health department starting next January.
With poor conditions and cost-cutting methods taking place at these surgery centers around the country, more and more victims of surgery centers are suing for medical malpractice.
History of In-And-Out Surgery Centers
The first surgery center was established in Phoenix in 1970 after two doctors questioned the need for lengthy and expensive hospital visits for minor surgeries. Because the centers did not need large staffs or costly life-saving equipment for routine procedures, patients paid less for procedures.
Not only have doctors continued to open in-and-out surgery centers but hospitals have also bought their own centers. According to The New York Times, UnitedHealth Group bought an outpatient surgery chain for $2.3 billion in January. The vice chairman of the group said the acquisition would help implement care models that reward independent surgeons and specialists for quality and care efficiency.
Over the years, the number of centers has risen sharply. There are now more than 5,600 Medicare-certified centers. In contrast, the American Hospital Association reports there are 5,534 registered hospitals in the United States.
Concerns over the safety of surgery centers are not new, however. According to a report published in the USA Today, Medicare said surgery centers “have neither patient safety standards consistent with those in place for hospitals, nor are they required to have the trained staff and equipment needed to provide the breadth of intensity of care.”
Patients File Malpractice Lawsuits Against Surgery Centers
The lack of consistent and regulated safety standards has resulted in thousands of patients experiencing significant injuries.
In one case, 67-year-old Rekhaben Shah went in for a routine colonoscopy exam at Oak Tree Surgery Center in Edison, New Jersey. Shah went under anesthesia, but her vitals dropped within minutes.
Staff called 911 but would not let paramedics inside for several minutes. The paramedic’s report described a “very chaotic scene” within the operating room, and the police were called to intervene.
Shah’s family has since filed a lawsuit against the anesthesiologist.
Although the details of Shah’s experience sound unbelievable, they are not out of the ordinary for many surgery centers. Some centers, including the Surgery Center of Ocala in Florida, have been a defendant in several malpractice cases. Some of these cases are settled out of court while the centers and their doctors continue to deny any wrongdoing.
Medical malpractice arises from a failure to employ adequate levels of care, skill or due diligence by a healthcare provider, doctor or nurse. Medical negligence can occur at any point in time a patient is under the care of a medical professional.
Some health insurance plans provide information about a procedure’s safety records. The Leapfrog Group, a patient advocacy organization, currently gives hospitals grades for their level of safety. The group is also working on something similar for surgery centers.
But for now, journalists and medical care professionals urge patients to do their research before going to surgery centers. Those who have been victims of medical malpractice should contact a qualified attorney immediately.