FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2012-04-24
The commoditization of plastic surgery has made cosmetic surgery a lucrative career choice for many physicians. In fact, some surgeons choose to change areas of practice in order to move into plastic surgery or other outpatient surgical practices. This “practice drift,” though financially beneficial for doctors, can have deadly consequences for patients.
"Practice drift" occurs when doctors practice in areas outside the specialization for which they are trained and board certified. This occurs most frequently at outpatient surgery facilities, which usually lack sufficient oversight and adequate emergency equipment, which can lead to more medical errors and patient injuries.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that more than half of states do not regulate these outpatient surgical facilities. In states that do regulate these types of offices, the accreditation and licensing process requires facilities to have emergency equipment, appropriate drugs, safety protocols and cleanliness standards. The facilities are also subject to state inspections. In states that lack such oversight, facilities are not regulated or inspected by the state and may lack safety equipment and protocols. Illinois and Missouri for example, do not require accreditation or licensure.
Plastic surgery offices are some of the most common outpatient surgical facilities in the United States. Plastic surgery is often more lucrative than other medical areas, so doctors are tempted to drift over to this practice area without acquiring necessary expertise or licensing.
This scenario, coupled with the fact that states often don't regulate these facilities, lead to surgical errors and serious patient injuries and even death. In Arizona, a former emergency room doctor turned cosmetic surgeon was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of manslaughter when three patients died after having surgery at his office. He is currently appealing his conviction. Across the country in North Carolina, an ear, nose and throat surgeon had his license suspended after two of his patients complained of substandard outcomes from cosmetic surgery he performed.
These few examples highlight the dangers that physicians practicing outside their area of expertise posed to unwitting patients. Most people assume they can trust their doctor and the state to ensure that procedures are safe and performed by a competent professional. Unfortunately, half the states in the country have not made it a priority to protect patient health at outpatient surgery facilities. Until all patients are protected, injuries and deaths from medical errors will continue to occur in these situations.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a doctor practicing in an area for which he or she is not licensed, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney to explore your legal options.