These are booming times for surgical centers.
The first ones opened in 1970. They were low-cost alternatives to hospitals for minor surgeries. They were places to go for routine outpatient procedures. Things like colonoscopies or cataract removal.
But today, they’ve become a huge business. They now outnumber hospitals. There are more than 5,600 across the country. And in the quest for profits, they have started doing more complicated surgeries, like delicate spinal procedures.
A new investigation has found that you may be taking a big risk if you have an operation at a surgical center instead of a hospital.
USA Today found that more than 260 patients have died after supposedly simple procedures went wrong.1
Surgical Center Trail of Death
These centers are not equipped or staffed for serious complications. So when a patient starts to go downhill, staff often has to call 911…for an ambulance to rush the patient to a hospital.
But sometimes it takes too long. Especially in rural areas. And the patient doesn’t make it.
That’s what happened to Paulina Tam.
Paulina Tam (USA Today)
Her spinal surgery seemed to go well. But four hours later, the 58-year-old mother of three started gasping for air.
Her doctors had left for the day. And nobody else knew what to do. A nurse called 911. But by the time the ambulance arrived, Paulina had died.
Part of the problem is that federal law allows doctors to steer patients to surgical centers they own. That way, they get a cut of the profits.
It’s important to be smart about the venue you choose for a medical procedure.
How to Avoid Becoming a Surgical Center Victim
- Keep it simple. Unless it’s a simple procedure, have your surgery at a hospital. And don’t have any procedure at a surgical center that requires an overnight stay. Surgical centers are often understaffed at night after doctors have left for the day.
- If you need general anesthesia, stick to a hospital. Being put under makes things riskier. The investigation found a 12-year-old boy died after complications during a tonsillectomy. His family filed a lawsuit saying the center and the anesthesiologist gave the boy an anesthetic that can cause cardiac arrest in boys.
- Ask about the center’s emergency protocol. Ask about the training level and number of staff. Find out whether emergency medications and resuscitative equipment are on-site and whether your doctor is certified in advanced resuscitation techniques.
- Find out how close the nearest hospital is. Figure out how long it could take an ambulance to transport you there.
- Consider your age and health. If you are under 60 and in good shape, you’re less likely to have surgical complications. But if you’re older or not in great health, you’re better off in a hospital.2 A 2015 analysis published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that adults 60 and older are more likely to be admitted to a hospital within 30 days of outpatient surgery.3 4
- Make sure it’s certified. Make sure the center is CMS-certified. That means it meets performance standards set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.
- Don’t leave early. Some surgical center patients have died on their way home. Before leaving, make sure your blood pressure and temperature are normal. Your pain and nausea should be under control. You should be able to move without dizziness.5
Surgery is scary enough without taking needless risks. If you have any doubts, insist on having your procedure done at a hospital.