Need Surgery? Hunt for a Shoulder Specialist

A recent article in Reader’s Digest, http://www.rd.com/slideshows/11-secrets-of-great-doctors/?trkid=channel#slideshow=slide9, highlights the importance of finding the right specialist to give yourself the best chance at an excellent outcome.

Need surgery?

Hunt for the specialist’s specialist. You don’t just want a doctor who is comfortable with performing a particular surgery as part of a wide repertoire; you want the surgeon who is obsessively focused on the exact technique you need done. Today, one surgeon can gain so much experience with one very specific surgery that her patients have fewer complications than the national average. Aside from asking your regular doctor to point you to the maestro of your surgery, doing Internet research can help you locate such a hyper-specialized surgeon. You just have to hope that one works at your hospital (and takes your insurance plan), or a road trip might be in store. And make sure your hospital is Joint Commission accredited for quality and safety. Go to qualitycheck.org to find the best hospital for you.

This sentiment is also echoed in another recent article in the Wall Street Journal:

When there is a plane crash in the U.S., even a minor one, it makes headlines. There is a thorough federal investigation, and the tragedy often yields important lessons for the aviation industry. Pilots and airlines thus learn how to do their jobs more safely.

The world of American medicine is far deadlier: Medical mistakes kill enough people each week to fill four jumbo jets. But these mistakes go largely unnoticed by the world at large, and the medical community rarely learns from them. The same preventable mistakes are made over and over again, and patients are left in the dark about which hospitals have significantly better (or worse) safety records than their peers.

WSJ’s Gary Rosen talks to author and surgeon Marty Makary about his ideas for making American hospitals more transparent about their safety records and more accountable for the quality of their care.

As doctors, we swear to do no harm. But on the job we soon absorb another unspoken rule: to overlook the mistakes of our colleagues. The problem is vast. U.S. surgeons operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times a week. Roughly a quarter of all hospitalized patients will be harmed by a medical error of some kind. If medical errors were a disease, they would be the sixth leading cause of death in America—just behind accidents and ahead of Alzheimer’s. The human toll aside, medical errors cost the U.S. health-care system tens of billions a year. Some 20% to 30% of all medications, tests and procedures are unnecessary, according to research done by medical specialists, surveying their own fields. What other industry misses the mark this often?

It does not have to be this way. A new generation of doctors and patients is trying to achieve greater transparency in the health-care system, and new technology makes it more achievable than ever before.

I encountered the disturbing closed-door culture of American medicine on my very first day as a student at one of Harvard Medical School’s prestigious affiliated teaching hospitals. Wearing a new white medical coat that was still creased from its packaging, I walked the halls marveling at the portraits of doctors past and present. On rounds that day, members of my resident team repeatedly referred to one well-known surgeon as “Dr. Hodad.” I hadn’t heard of a surgeon by that name. Finally, I inquired. “Hodad,” it turned out, was a nickname. A fellow student whispered: “It stands for Hands of Death and Destruction.”

‘Doctors absorb an unspoken rule: to overlook the mistakes of our colleagues.’

Stunned, I soon saw just how scary the works of his hands were. His operating skills were hasty and slipshod, and his patients frequently suffered complications. This was a man who simply should not have been allowed to touch patients. But his bedside manner was impeccable (in fact, I try to emulate it to this day). He was charming. Celebrities requested him for operations. His patients worshiped him. When faced with excessive surgery time and extended hospitalizations, they just chalked up their misfortunes to fate.

Dr. Hodad’s popularity was no aberration. As I rotated through other hospitals during my training, I learned that many hospitals have a “Dr. Hodad” somewhere on staff (sometimes more than one). In a business where reputation is everything, doctors who call out other doctors can be targeted. I’ve seen whistleblowing doctors suddenly assigned to more emergency calls, given fewer resources or simply badmouthed and discredited in retaliation. For me, I knew the ramifications if I sounded the alarm over Dr. Hodad: I’d be called into the hospital chairman’s office, a dread scenario if I ever wanted a job. So, as a rookie, I kept my mouth shut. Like the other trainees, I just told myself that my 120-hour weeks were about surviving to become a surgeon one day, not about fixing medicine’s culture.

Hospitals as a whole also tend to escape accountability, with excessive complication rates even at institutions that the public trusts as top-notch. Very few hospitals publish statistics on their performance, so how do patients pick one? As an informal exercise throughout my career, I’ve asked patients how they decided to come to the hospital where I was working (Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, D.C. General Hospital, Harvard and others). Among their answers: “Because you’re close to home”; “You guys treated my dad when he died”; “I figured it must be good because you have a helicopter.” You wouldn’t believe the number of patients who have told me that the deciding factor for them was parking.

There is no reason for patients to remain in the dark like this.  Read the rest here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444620104578008263334441352.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_RIGHTTopListofHeadlines#articleTabs%3Darticle

It is well worth getting a second, third or even fourth opinion including traveling long distances if necessary to find the best surgeon.

Author
Vivek Agrawal, MD

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