The number of surgical centers in the U.S. has ballooned in recent years to more than 5,600. These facilities started several decades ago as a low-cost alternative for patients undergoing minor surgeries. However, these centers now outnumber hospitals, and federal regulators are approving them for an increasing number of complex procedures. The goal is to reduce federal health care costs. However, it seems many patients are paying the price, according to a new report by Kaiser Health News and USA Today.
The report indicates that staffers at these centers are calling 911 thousands of times annually with complications that range from minor to deadly, but we don’t know exactly how big the problem is because there is no national authority that tracks these incidents. The journalists’ analysis, based on legal filings, autopsy records and medical reports contained in more than 12,000 federal and state inspection records, as well as interviews with physicians, patients and health policy experts, indicates that at least 260 of these patients have died in the last five years as a result of in- and out-patient surgeries at these centers. Some patients were as young as 2-years-old, with some undergoing routine surgeries, like tonsillectomies and colonoscopies. Others are undergoing complex operations like spinal surgeries.
These centers and physicians share in the reward for these surgeries because doctors can earn their own fee plus a cut of the facility fee when they own shares in the center. However, the biggest risk to patients occurs with the fact that while Medicare requires surgical centers to be within 15 miles of an emergency room, it can still mean up to a half hour can pass between the time a 911 call is made and the time one arrives at the ER. Some critics and medical malpractice attorneys argue that certain patients with underlying medical issues or those undergoing serious procedures should only be treated in a hospital in the first place – if they should have these operations at all. Many of these facilities lack the kind of lifesaving training or equipment needed to address a potentially serious complication. These can include simple things like tools necessary to open an airway or training necessary to stop a patient from bleeding to death. At least two dozen patients reportedly died within minutes or days of undergoing surgical center operations. Continue reading →