Some patients painstakingly vet their surgeons before their procedure. Sometimes, however, the surgeon that the patient expects is not the one who actually performs the operation. While surgeons can be switched for a number of legitimate reasons, there is a disturbing trend of meeting with prominent surgeons, only to have less experienced colleagues perform the operation. This bait and switch is known as a “ghost surgery,” and the number of lawsuits are on the rise.
Denyse Richter of New Hampshire filed a medical malpractice action after her heart was severely damaged in a cardiac operation. She had sought out a renowned, triple board-certified cardiologist, but instead the procedure was performed by a less experienced colleague. Now Richter requires a pacemaker.
“I sought the rock star, and I got the opening act,” said Richter, whose case went to a jury in 2008 before being settled for an undisclosed amount.
The American College of Surgeons tells its members that it’s unethical to mislead a patient about the identity of the person performing an operation. Doctors must inform (and receive consent from) the patient before delegating any part of the procedure to another provider. The guidelines also make clear that, regardless of who is performing a particular part of a procedure, the primary surgeon is responsible for the patient’s welfare throughout the operation, including remaining in the operating room or the immediate vicinity.
But even patients who shop around for a surgeon may not take the time to understand what exactly will happen in the operating room. At least one study reported that most people don’t read their consent form, which spells out who will be involved in critical parts of the procedure.
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