Are Outpatient Surgery Centers Safe?

Melissa Rivers, daughter of comedienne Joan Rivers, recently filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the New York medical clinic where her mother last year suffered catastrophic complications while undergoing a routine procedure. She died a few days later in a hospital.

While outpatient surgery centers continue to flourish in Missouri and other states, just how safe are they?

Common Outpatient Surgical Procedures

One study published in 2103 examined the records of 4 million people who had surgery at an outpatient center in three states between July 2008 and September 2009. The most common outpatient surgical procedures they found were:

  • colonoscopy
  • upper gastrointestinal endoscopy
  • cataract surgery

Of the 3,821,670 patients included in the study, 121,300 patients had to go back to a hospital within a week of their outpatient center procedure. That's about 3 percent of clinic patients overall. More specifically, about 8 percent of patients who had a diagnostic cardiac catheterization had to return to a full-service hospital, while 1 percent who underwent a cataract procedure did.

The authors said that while a transfer to a hospital stay directly from an outpatient procedure gone wrong is a relatively minor occurrence, having to be admitted to a hospital within a week afterward is about 30 times more likely.

Mistakes Made in Outpatient Surgery Centers

The federal government is focusing on outpatient safety. In October 2013, Medicare imposed quality care-based measures for payments to outpatient centers, also known as ambulatory surgery centers. The criteria include not only the rate of transfers to hospitals following an outpatient surgery, but also:

A 2013 American Hospital Association count of outpatient centers showed 5,260 surgery centers in the country, versus 5,724 hospitals. More than two out of every three surgeries in the United States now are done in outpatient clinics. While the vast majority of procedures performed at outpatient centers appear to be safe, adverse events do occur. A concern is that when a medical mistake is made and a patient's life is threatened, can it be addressed quickly and thoroughly enough given the level of staffing and equipment at a smaller center?

When medical mistakes severely or fatally injure a patient, those who make them should be held accountable. Investigations require an in-depth examination of all possible contributing factors by trained professionals. If you lost a loved one due to a medical error, an attorney experienced in medical malpractice cases can pursue just compensation for your loss from those responsible.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.

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