Risks Associated with Outpatient Surgery


Outpatient surgery, also known as ambulatory surgery, has become a way of life in the United States. Insurance companies and doctors alike may direct patients to outpatient facilities, often for reasons that consider finances above patient safety. Experts warn that these facilities may not be equipped to handle complications that can arise, and as a result, injury or even death may be the unfortunate outcome. Read on for more information regarding potential risks in outpatient surgical procedures.

What Constitutes Outpatient Surgery?

Ambulatory surgical facilities have several characteristics in common. They are typically freestanding facilities owned by doctors or medical groups, rather than hospitals. Some offer a limited scope of treatment types (such as endoscopy services) while others offer a range of surgical services. Although they have the appearance of a standard hospital facility, they lack emergency and critical care personnel and equipment. Patients are given a brief recovery period after their procedure, then sent home. Procedures are performed at a high volume in most ambulatory facilities. Experts estimate that approximately 23 million outpatient surgeries are performed each year in the United States. That’s nearly 60 percent of all surgeries, and that number is increasing.

The Rise of Ambulatory Surgical Procedures in the United States

As medial insurance companies continue to scale back on what they will cover, patients are forced to undergo surgical procedures on an outpatient basis (or pay for a hospital stay out of pocket). The insurance companies assert that this is made possible by technological advances; however, many physicians disagree with that position. Ambulatory procedures also involve a conflict of interest between a doctor’s profits and patient safety. If your doctor has a financial stake in an outpatient surgical center, he or she may send you there for a procedure rather than to a hospital. Unfortunately, disclosure of this conflict of interest is not typically required.

The Inherent Risks Outpatient Surgery

This issue received very little attention until the recent death of comedienne Joan Rivers as a result of an outpatient procedure gone wrong. Patient-safety advocates warn that older patients, the obese and those with pre-existing medical conditions have a greater risk of complications that outpatient facilities are not equipped to handle. If something goes wrong, precious time is lost in transporting the patient to an emergency facility. In addition, surgical recovery involves several inherent risks, including blood clots, which can potentially lead to death. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control reports that ambulatory facilities are doing a poor job of preventing secondary infections. In a study, two-thirds of the facilities inspected had lapses in infection control protocols.

If you or a loved one has suffered complications from a recent procedure, contact the professional attorneys of Rasmussen and Miner. They will schedule a private consultation for you to discuss any potential liability or malpractice with regard to your outpatient surgery.