Physician, Heal Thyself

This majority opinion out of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas, reversed and rendered (malice claim) and reversed and remanded for trial (negligence claim) a $23 million judgment against a hospital and its doctors for (negligently) credentialing a physician that it allegedly knew abused prescription drugs and was incompetent. The majority ruled that the hospital did not act with malice and threw out the jury’s award on plaintiffs’ malice claim.

The sad part about this is that the doctor performed back surgery on plaintiff Romero, and during the course of the surgery, Romero lost nearly all the blood in his body and went into cardiac arrest. He’s now extremely compromised, mentally. Plaintiffs allege that had the hospital acted responsibily in investigating the doctor prior to credentialing him, none of this would have happened. From the opinion:

The Romeros argued that the database would have contained the malpractice actions against Baker that resulted in settlements, including one lawsuit in which Baker operated on the wrong leg of a patient and another in which he left a sponge in a patient. The last of these lawsuits was in 1993.

In mid-May of 1998, two months before Romero’s surgery, nearby Cleveland Regional Medical Center suspended Baker’s operating privileges. Baker admitted that one of the reasons for the suspension was that he operated on the wrong leg of a patient, although Cleveland Regional did not give this as a reason for suspending Baker. Dr. Rosen, who was Chief of Staff at Cleveland Regional and on the Hospital’s surgery committee, admitted that he knew about this suspension. However, he also testified that when doctors from Cleveland Regional were reviewed at the Hospital, he did not participate in those discussions because of peer review confidentiality. Dr. Rosen further testified that Baker obtained a restraining order to prevent anyone at Cleveland Regional from discussing or mentioning Baker’s suspension. That order did not expire until July 16, 1998, one day after Romero’s surgery.

Baker testified that he was suspended from the Hospital pending an investigation after the Romero surgery, but there was also evidence that he performed at least two surgeries there in September. He did not reapply for privileges at the Hospital.

(footnotes omitted)

How stupid — or dyslexic — do you have to be to operate on the WRONG LEG, not once but twice?! This is a moral outrage in my opinion.

This is not a capricious lawsuit filed by money-hungry plaintiffs. This is one lawsuit that deserved to be filed. This scenario just underscores the fact that doctors have gone so far to protect themselves from public scrutiny, to HIDE their misdeeds behind the cloak of confidentiality — they have only themselves to blame now when malpractice premiums are skyrocketing. Let’s get the bad doctors out into the open. If peer review had been conducted openly, with public access, from the beginning, I’d be willing to bet we wouldn’t see the malpractice premium crisis we have on our hands today. Now, it’s affecting not just the bad doctors — of whom there are far too many hiding out there — but the good ones as well.

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