Why you should check out your doctors

It’s easy to sensationalize something as strange as butt implants. Today’s Star-Ledger has a story about six women who are now hospitalized after getting injections to increase the size of their rear ends.  These women unfortunately went to an allegedly unlicensed practitioner. Instead of receiving medical-grade silicone, they got a diluted version that you’d use to caulk a bathtub. There’s an image I’d like to forget.

When I worked as a medical malpractice claims investigator, one of my (frequent) clients was a cosmetic surgeon (his specialty was otolaryngology). Not a plastic surgeon – there’s a difference (you’ll get an earful if you ever mix them up in front of a plastic surgeon). My client got in trouble after a calf implant procedure didn’t take. He also had claims filed against him from a man who received pec implants, and a woman receiving a chin implant. Had he done many of these procedures before? No. Was it beyond the scope of what an otolaryngologist should be doing? Well, that was up for debate. The doctor wasn’t criticized for going beyond his scope of expertise with the chin implant, but the pec and the calf implants were harder to defend. He received medical training in those areas, but the expert plastic surgeons we (and the plaintiffs) hired, had a field day.

What was the lesson learned? As a patient, make sure your physician has performed MANY of these procedures before, so you’re not in the guinea pig group. And make sure you’re going to the right specialist for the procedure. The other lessons learned? Check out your doctor before you agree to a procedure. A few places to look:

-State Licensing Boards. The American Medical Association has a list of state medical boards on its website. You can look up whether the doctor is licensed, and often whether there’s been any actions against that physician. I looked up the otolaryngologist, and found that he completed his probation, there was a malpractice award against him, and he had a citation resolved. Is this helpful to a potential patient? You bet.

Health Grades – you can look up 750,000 doctors across the country. While the patient reports can be helpful, take them with a large grain of salt. I again looked up the otolaryngologist, and there were 8 positive patient ratings. Based on the ratings, I would go to this physician. But the background check (which I didn’t run) should show his disciplinary actions, confirm whether he’s board-certified, and more. There’s a fee for the background check ($12.95), plus you may get charged more for their ‘watchdog service’ if you don’t cancel in 14 days.

-Ask for references. Of course the ones the physician gives you will probably be glowing. Ask around. Speak to others who have had the same procedure, so you’ll know what to expect in terms of healing and complications. Ask whether the doctor was easily accessible after the procedure, if you had questions or concerns.

-Make sure you know the risks involved with the procedure. Ask about the worst possible things that could happen. The doctor will give you an informed consent form to sign – it’s often generic, and will list complications like death and unforseen consequences. Ask the doctor for specifics. Granted, bad results can always happen, even to the best of physicians. But if you’re aware of the potential complications, and you’re still game for the elective procedure, then it’s buyer beware.

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