Seventy-one-year-old retired secretary LaVerne Stiles underwent a spinal fusion operation at Citrus Memorial Hospital in central Florida in February 2012, as she had been involved in a minor car accident a few weeks earlier and had sustained broken bones in her neck.
Spinal fusion is done tens of thousands of times annually at the hospital, and they are usually performed without a hitch. Stiles can take her pick from three of the hospital’s well-trained surgeons, who mastered their craft at the hospital rated to be one of the top 100 in the nation when it comes to spinal fusion operations.
However, the doctor that performed the procedure on her, Constantine Toumbis, had one of the highest rates of mishaps when it comes to spinal procedures in the United States. The other two doctors at the hospital’s disposal possessed among the lowest rates for postoperative problems like infection and internal bleeding.
According to statistics analyzed by New York City-based independent non-profit newsroom ProPublica based on Medicare data, the differences that Stiles encountered at Citrus Memorial are indicative of the activities in many hospitals across America – they do not track the complication rates of many surgeons and utilize such information so as to enforce improvements. The government also has no say in this.
Using five years of Medicare records for eight common elective procedures including knee and hip replacements, prostate removals, and spinal fusions, ProPublica found out that hundreds of surgeons across the nation had rates of complications approaching double and triple the national average, surgeons with the highest complication rates are still being allowed to perform surgeries nationwide, and that subpar surgeons are working at academic medical centers which are considered the best in the country.
Attorneys at Schuler, Halvorson, Weisser, Zoeller, & Overbeck, P.A. say that patient safety has been at the core of American health care since 1999 when the Institute of Medicine published “To Err is Human”, a report that revealed the frequency with which surgical operations result in errors.