Free-standing surgery centers are promoted as cost-effective and convenient alternatives to hospital operating rooms. Alarmingly, many patients who undergo even simple procedures at these facilities are paying with their lives. Inadequately trained staff and the lack of emergency equipment in many surgery centers mean patients are not properly monitored, they are sent home too soon, and they’re unable to access immediate medical treatment when life-threatening complications arise.
A Recipe for Widespread Medical Malpractice
Since the first outpatient surgical center opened its doors in 1970, these facilities have become increasingly popular for patients needing minor surgery. They are affordable, offer scheduling flexibility, and provide a more personalized experience than many hospitals. In recent years, regulators have approved an increasing number of complex procedures that can be performed at ambulatory surgery centers to reduce federal healthcare costs. With more than 5,600 centers throughout the United States, these facilities now outnumber hospitals. They perform everything from minor cataract removals to complex spinal surgeries. Unfortunately, such explosive growth is turning out to be a recipe for widespread tragedy and medical malpractice.
A Kaiser Health News and USA Today investigation revealed that more than 260 patients lost their lives since 2013 after undergoing procedures at surgery centers. While many in the industry have dismissed the mounting deaths as situations beyond the control of the centers and the physicians who perform the procedures, the investigation tells a different story.
Unprepared for Crisis Situations
Although some surgical centers are state-of-the-art facilities with highly-trained staff, many do not have the equipment or capability to appropriately respond to crisis situations. In fact, these centers call 911 thousands of times each year when emergencies arise. Since 2015, Medicare health inspectors have found 230 rescue equipment and training lapses at surgery centers.
Putting Profits Above Patient Safety
Physician ownership of surgery centers creates ethical haze. Under federal law, physicians that own surgery centers can steer their patients away from having surgery at full-service hospitals in favor of undergoing procedures at their facilities. As a result, many doctors take on risky procedures and jeopardize the lives of patients to boost their personal profits.
Unlike hospitals, most outpatient surgery centers maintain regular business hours which may interfere with post-procedure monitoring. In many cases, patients are discharged too soon after surgery, only to die on the way home.