When a Minor Medical Procedure Turns Deadly

News of Joan Rivers’ tragic death after an in-office medical procedure shocked and frightened many Americans. While the full story of exactly what happened is not yet known, Rivers had apparently been complaining of hoarseness, and she had arranged for her doctors to perform an endoscopy, a procedure in which a thin tube with a camera attached to it is fed through the esophagus toward the stomach. The procedure is usually short and safe, with patients going home as soon as they are fully awake.  But for reasons that are still not clear, Rivers suddenly went into respiratory arrest, and although she was quickly transported to the hospital, she was unable to be revived.  She died a week later after her family decided to withdraw life support.  New York state health authorities are investigating, and there are reports (still unconfirmed) that one of the doctors was not licensed to work at the clinic, and that the anesthetic that was used is the same drug that killed Michael Jackson.

Risky Business: Out Patient Clinics That Post a Danger to Patients

If this can happen to someone like Joan Rivers, who had the ability to choose any doctor or facility, could it happen to you?  Unfortunately, the answer is yes, but going to the hospital is not a guarantee of a good outcome either. Many people prefer to use an outpatient center rather than a hospital for minor procedures, since the process of admission and discharge is often much faster than in a hospital.  Also, because these facilities cater to people who are otherwise healthy, many people believe that they are less likely to contract an infectious disease.  In Rivers’ case, another factor may have been her desire to avoid the press scrutiny that might have accompanied a visit to a hospital.

But what many patients do not know is that some outpatient clinics are for-profit businesses, and often the owners of the business include the doctors who practice there. This business model encourages doctors to perform a procedure in the clinic, rather than in the hospital, and to keep the facility’s costs down.

If you are planning to have surgery or another procedure done as an outpatient, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about the facility and its staff.  Are all of the doctors board-certified in the specialty that you need? Does the doctor have a financial interest in the clinic?  This is not against the law, but it is still a reasonable question to ask before you decide.

Make sure that you do not sign a boilerplate waiver without understanding the specific risks of your procedure, and what if anything about you or your medical history might make it more dangerous than the norm.  If anesthesia is to be used, will it be delivered by a board-certified anesthesiologist, or someone else such as a nurse practitioner, and will that person remain in the room during the entire procedure? Is the facility equipped with a defibrillator and other equipment that might be needed in case of respiratory or cardiac arrest?

The Florida Department of Health publicizes regulations that must be followed in any facility that does outpatient procedures, and they are amended frequently. You may want to ask your doctor how your specific situation is classified in the regulations, and what safeguards are required for your procedure.

Sometimes, a patient will have a bad medical outcome despite the fact that the doctors did everything properly.  But before you decide that this is true in your case, you should consider consulting with an attorney who has extensive experience in medical malpractice cases.  In many cases, only a professional will be able to determine the link between your current situation and a lack of sound medical judgment or a breach of Florida law.

If you have any questions on this blog or need information on other personal injury queries, please call the Law offices of Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath located in West Palm Beach at 1-800 4-RIGHTS  (1-800- 474-4487)  We welcome your call and look forward to helping you.