Injured Under The Knife: Do Surgeons Deserve A Second Chance?

In 2007, when 77 year old Maribeth Chase received a relatively routine surgery to remove pooling blood from her brain, she became a victim of medical malpractice.  The procedure, which was performed by a doctor with a history of malpractice, left her paralyzed and with a brain injury which killed her within days after the surgery.  Before her procedure, neither Chase, nor her family, was aware of her surgeon’s history of medical mistakes.  Dr. Robert Tenny, who has been sued at least 16 times by patients or by the families of deceased patients since the early 1990’s, has an “untarnished” Kansas medical license.  Chase’s family, who sued Tenny for just over $1 million, is just one of many malpractice victims and grieving families who are left wondering why repeat offenders are allowed to practice medicine.  Just one incidence of medical malpractice leaves thousands wondering if medical professionals deserve a second chance and the continuation of practicing medicine.

 Injured Under The Knife: Do Surgeons Deserve A Second Chance?

Before Surgery: What You Should Know About Medical Malpractice

Regardless if you have a minor outpatient procedure or a major surgery, feeling nervous is natural as you are allowing a skilled medical professional to take full control of your medical condition.  All it takes is hearing about someone else’s unfortunate and unpleasant experience with a doctor and you may find yourself thinking twice about your doctor or the having the procedure done.  These facts probably won’t help either; according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), medical negligence (which leads to medical malpractice claims) is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., following heart disease and cancer.  Secondly, in 2012 alone, over $3 billion was spent in medical malpractice payouts.  These statistics do little to ease worry before going under the knife, but if your procedure is necessary you will most likely not have the option to “opt out”.

It would be safe to say that 99% of doctors don’t have the intention of messing up, injuring or killing patients, or making unsafe decisions, but mistakes (no matter how well-intentioned) do occur in the medical field, injuring and killing thousands of patients each year.  Whether a surgeon read an x-ray incorrectly, is operating while sleep deprived, or accidentally cuts a major artery, he is and should be held responsible for his actions.  As you would with any medical professional, it’s a good idea to get as much information as you can about him/her.  Depending on where you live, California, Georgia, and New York, for example, you may be able to go to medical boards’ websites to find out about a doctor’s malpractice history.  Once you find the information you are looking for (or hoped not to find), it is up to you whether or not you want to keep your doctor.  Some medical malpractice claims are not directly linked to a doctor.  For example, a doctor may have been sued for once giving a recommendation while another doctor may have had a more “active” role in the injury or death.  As the patient, it is your right to decide how to proceed with your healthcare.

Is an Admission of Guilt Enough?

Ever since childhood, we were taught that we must own up to any wrongdoing.  Many doctors who made a minor to deadly mistake wanted to apologize, but were not allowed.  Doctors who admit to wrongdoing are more likely to face harsher consequences in a medical malpractice lawsuit.  But in reality, isn’t that what patients and grieving families want to hear, “I’m Sorry”?  After all, “To Err is Human”.  Recently, in Philadelphia, a bill was passed allowing medical professionals to admit to  any mistakes, offer a sincere apology, and display other acts of compassion without the fear that doing so will lead to future litigation and allegations of mistreatment and malpractice.  For some patients, families, and doctors alike, this is good news, but for others it may feel like a proverbial slap in the face.  If a doctor admits to messing up, proceeds to apologize, is that really enough?  It won’t bring a life back, it won’t regain feeling and movement in a paralyzed patient and it won’t reverse financial, emotional, mental and physical pain.  An apology is warranted, deserved, and needed regardless, but is it an appropriate action to prevent victims from seeking compensation?  More importantly, do doctors deserve a second chance?

The Decision is Up to You

Many would agree that doctors, who have had a small handful of non-life threatening errors, should be allowed to practice after admission of guilt, fined, and the incidences going on public record.  Medical professionals who become notorious for having one malpractice suit after another should be avoided.  The fact that many of these doctors continue to practice medicine and are able to keep their licenses baffles patients and colleagues alike.  While it seems that many doctors are not sufficiently punished for their wrong doing, you, as a patient, have a right to choose your doctor and take appropriate action against your care if you feel like you were a victim of malpractice.  Do your research before going under the knife.  Will you allow an offending surgeon have another chance?