Maybe you have seen the recent news stories or personally viewed the YouTube videos posted by the now suspended dermatologist, Dr. Windell Boutte. Atlanta’s notorious “Booty Doctor” ultimately danced her way into numerous lawsuits and complaints of complications and botched surgeries after cutting on patients to the beat of rap music, while singing along and striking poses for the camera no less—all in the seclusion of her office’s surgical center staffed by nurses who were most likely incapable of handling a life-or-death situation should it arise. While no deaths have been reported under her care, disfigurements, a collapsed lung and even brain damage have been alleged.
Beyond the physician’s outrageous behavior, it would be interesting to know if her patients had any idea of the risks they faced simply choosing a private surgery center, also known as an ambulatory surgery center (ASC).
According to a joint investigation by USA TODAY and Kaiser Health News, more than 260 people have died since 2013 after procedures at surgery centers. Additionally, these centers call 911 thousands of times per year for complications both minor and fatal. Remarkably, no national or local agency keeps track of the numbers of people who die from complications arising from care at an outpatient facility, leaving consumers in the dark.
Overwhelmingly owned by surgeons, these centers are subject to little industry oversight. Often, the facilities neither have the equipment or the staff capable of handling a medical emergency. Unbeknownst to many patients, frequently a doctor’s only backup is to call 911 and send the victim to a local hospital.
ASC’s were originally created for same-day “outpatient” procedures. Now, patients routinely rely on them for procedures such as colonoscopies and tonsillectomies. However, driven by financial interests, doctors are taking on more complex cases, including joint replacement and spinal surgery, and may underplay medical risks in their quest to fill beds.
Christina Jewett of Kaiser Health News explained, “… what we found was that some of the patients are not appropriate for the setting. They might be too sick. Some of the surgeries might be too complicated, and we also found that sometimes the centers just aren’t prepared.”
A little knowledge can go a long way though and the advocacy group Consumer Reports offers advice for patients considering an private surgical center:
- Check the center’s certification. If it is CMS certified, it adheres to Medicare standards.
- Ask about the ASC’s emergency plan.
- Discuss the surgeon’s experience. The doctor should have performed your surgery at least 50 times in the last year.
Undergoing a medical procedure is worrying enough for any family. They should not also be concerned about the facility itself, or the doctor’s unspoken motivations.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.