Surgical Malpractice: Who Actually Performed Your Surgery?

Surgery – even a relatively minor surgery – is one of the most stressful medical procedures that a patient can undergo. A patient and his or her family often rely on the reassurance of the surgeon prior to the surgery to put his or her mind at ease. And some patients go to great lengths to vet their surgeons and choose the specific surgeon that they believe is right for them.

But what happens if the surgeon that you think is going to perform your procedure isn’t actually the one who performs the surgery?

Unfortunately, this happens far more often than you would think. In some situations, there is a legitimate reason for the surgeon switch, such as a medical emergency involving the surgeon or the use of residents to perform procedures under supervision at academic medical centers. Although substituting a different surgeon is generally acceptable if the patient is informed of the replacement and gives his or her consent, as this Chicago Tribune article shows, in some cases surgeons perform a bait-and-switch, whereby the scheduled surgeon does not perform the procedure as promised.

Although it is difficult to determine just how many of these “ghost surgeries,” as the Tribune calls them, are performed each year, several lawsuits have been filed in recent years indicating that the scam might be far more common than expected.

According the Tribune article, a New Hampshire patient filed a medical malpractice lawsuit after her heart was damaged in a cardiac surgery performed by a less experienced doctor instead of the renowned, triple board-certified cardiologist whom she had scheduled. The article also indicates that a 2004 lawsuit was filed against Rush University Medical Center and a group of fellow surgeons accusing them of Medicare fraud in connection with operations that were performed by unsupervised medical residents. And, in 2012, a patient accused a urologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital of not performing her kidney operation has promised.

But, according to patient advocates, surgical bait-and-switch is not uncommon. In some cases, the surgeon isn’t present at all and the procedure is performed by a different doctor and, in other cases, the scheduled surgeon only appears in the operating room after the procedure is performed.

“We can go into the operating room, be sedated and have a different person we know nothing about cut into our bodies,” said Dr. Julia Hallisy, a dentist who is president of The Empowered Patient Coalition, based in San Francisco. “It’s alarming and disconcerting on so many levels, not just from a medical or legal standpoint, but from a trust and ethical standpoint.”

American College of Surgeons guidelines say it is unethical for surgeons to mislead a patient about who will be performing an operation and stipulate that a surgeon is responsible for the patient’s welfare throughout the operation by remaining in the operating room or the immediate vicinity.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you suspect that you or a family member was the victim of surgical bait-and-switch, you should contact a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney as you may be entitled to financial compensation. The Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Cogan & Power, P.C. are dedicated to protecting the victims of medical mistakes, including surgical malpracticeContact our office at (312) 477-2500 to speak with one of our skilled Chicago medical malpractice attorneys.