A recent report from USA Today and Kaiser Health News has our malpractice attorneys asking – “Is a dangerous oversight allowing unchecked misconduct among doctors exiled from hospitals?” According to an investigation by USA Today Network and Kaiser Health News, poor regulations and lax oversight in some states may be allowing doctors with a history of hospital misconduct to open their own clinics or surgical centers. Could this oversight allow dangerous doctors to treat patients or perform surgeries under the radar?
The short answer in some states appears to be simply, “yes”. At Brown & Brothers, our malpractice attorneys know all too well how dangerous lax oversight in the healthcare industry can be. An unfortunate reality is that you – the patient – are the one left to manage the aftermath of poor regulations and negligent healthcare practices. We want to help our readers stay informed so you can make the best decisions possible to preserve your health and legal rights.
Read on to learn more about the recent investigation and what it could mean for the healthcare industry. If this sounds like a situation that has happened to you, contact one of our malpractice attorneys to learn more.
Dangerous Oversight: The Investigation
Kaiser Health News and USA Today Network began their investigation after a series of deaths were reported at the same Arkansas surgery center. Two people died and another was injured after going to the surgery center for a colonoscopy – a routine and safe procedure. Shortly after each procedure, the patients reportedly stopped breathing, which resulted in brain damage similar to that experienced when drowning.
After the three reports, Arkansas conducted no review. Further investigation found that there are 16 other states that also have no requirement that surgery centers report deaths. That means that deaths occurring in these centers may be anomalies, or may be due to negligence or malpractice. With no authority oversight, it is difficult to tell.
Because of lax oversight, investigators reviewed similar problems in other states. Overall, investigators found a very uneven mix of regulations, resulting in an environment where serious injuries or deaths may go unreported. There is a fear that such lax oversight could allow surgery centers to continue operating while possibly putting additional patients at risk.
Some gaps in oversight were found to enable surgery centers where regulators had initiated sanctions to continue operating. Doctors who had been sanctioned while working at hospitals were allowed to continue practicing at surgery centers without oversight or reporting adverse events at the centers. Patients may have no indication that adverse events or deaths have occurred at these facilities until something happens to them.
Can Unchecked Misconduct be Prevented?
One of the most important elements of investigations like this one is the fact that it raises awareness to potentially deadly problems in the healthcare industry. In order for change to occur, the problems must first be identified and awareness raised. This investigation revealed several problems, including the fact that surgical outcome data is extremely limited among surgery centers. Another problem is the fact that the number of surgery centers has increased, passing the total number of hospitals in the U.S. There are currently an estimated 5,600 surgery centers operating across the U.S., with many taking on more complex procedures than previously performed in outpatient centers.
Hospitals are required to report adverse events and unexpected deaths to the Joint Commission, which is the leading accreditation body. Accreditation guidelines for surgery centers do not have the same requirements, and thus, reporting is often not made, or is not adequate to examine the cause of the event or wrongful death. So, what can be done to prevent unchecked misconduct? Our malpractice attorneys note the following based on the investigation:
More Consistency in Policies:
Several states have implemented statewide policies for reporting adverse events or deaths, but there is little consistency. A few examples include:
- Colorado: Colorado requires surgery centers to report some major injuries and unexpected deaths to the health department, which publishes them online for consumers.
- Florida: Florida is one of a handful of states that requires incident reports. While these reports are published online for the public, they do not reveal where the incident occurred.
- Arkansas: Arkansas is one of 17 states that have no reporting requirement, including no mandate to report on cases involved in lawsuits.
Improving consistency in reporting requirements could help prevent adverse events or unexpected deaths. Not only would this require surgery centers to be more accountable, but it would also give patients the information they need to make the best choices for their health.
Another major problem identified in the investigation is the fact that current reporting systems are incredibly flawed. Some systems only include certain medical conditions or complications. Systems in place for surgery centers most often do not include quality measures that reflect the patient’s overall experience, such as patient satisfaction.
The federal government uses some websites, such as “Hospital Compare” to publish reports, while Medicare manages separate reporting and data systems. Overall, it appears that only a small portion of patients are represented. Because reporting systems are so flawed, patients who review reports may get an inaccurate idea of patient satisfaction and safety.
There is also a lack of consistency in reporting hospital transfers from surgery centers, which can also mislead patients. Even though reports may be filed with local or state agencies, those reports may not make it to Medicare or other agencies that regulate patient safety.
Accountability is something that is definitely lacking in the healthcare industry, especially among surgery centers. With inconsistent reporting requirements and lax regulations, there is little accountability and little-to-no consequences for operating a potentially dangerous surgery center. Patient safety advocates believe that there should be more harsh sanctions for facilities with safety lapses or recurring adverse events or deaths.
Where hospitals have more strict requirements and are subject to serious consequences, surgery centers seem to avoid penalties and continue operating with little concern. The consequences instead are felt by patients and their loved ones – many of which are in ongoing legal battles after suffering injuries, infection, disability, or death.
Many of the cases currently in litigation could have easily been prevented had the surgery center in question had adequate staff, better infection-control policies, better reporting, and better equipment to manage emergencies.
Malpractice Attorneys Help Protect Your Rights
If you have been injured while under the care of a surgery center, it is important to take action and hold the facility accountable. As a patient, you have the right to safe, quality healthcare that meets certain standards. To learn more about the standards, your legal rights, or to get answers about medical malpractice, contact Brown & Brothers to speak with one of our malpractice attorneys.
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