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Surgery centers: For profit or for patients?

Back in 1970, the first surgery center that wasn't in a hospital opened in Phoenix, Arizona. The pioneers who opened the center had a good thought, or so it seemed at the time. Medicare seemed to appreciate the fact that minor surgeries were much less expensive at these freestanding clinics, but there may not have been thought given to patient safety at the time.

It wasn't until 1982 that Medicare began covering procedures that were performed in these centers. This helped to push the surgery center boom. The 1993 exemption from the second Stark Law that Congress gave doctors related to surgery centers further pushed the boom along. Since then, there has been a slippery slope that seems to pit patients against profit for some doctors.

Patients over profits?

The exemption from the second Stark Law means that doctors can steer patients to their own surgery centers instead of sending them to hospitals. Essentially, this means that a doctor can choose to boost his or her own profits on every patient instead of taking the possibly safer option of sending them to a hospital.

Where does patient safety come into the picture?

Unfortunately, patient safety isn't a priority for some surgery centers. Unlike hospitals, these centers and their staff members don't have the tools and skills necessary to handle some emergencies. In fact, this problem is widely accepted and is the reason why many laws have gone into place that require surgery centers to have partnerships with hospitals that will accept their patients in an emergency situation. Still, this is care that is given too late for some patients.

What happens if the patient has increased risks?

Many surgery centers will still perform procedures on patients who have increased risks. The fact that these surgeries do come with risks is cited when doctors are asked why they chose to accept patients with certain risks, such as high blood pressure or known cardiac issues. Some surgeons refuse to accept that risky patients would be better served and much safer if they were admitted into a hospital where lifesaving measures could be taken.

What can victims of surgery center errors or malpractice do?

When there is evidence of errors, malpractice or negligence, the victim or the victim's family can opt to take legal action. This isn't going to reduce the pain and suffering of the victim if they lived nor will it bring back a loved one who died because of the issue. Still, it can be an important way to take a stand against these profit-over-patient surgery centers.

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