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Failure to offer less-invasive surgical options puts patients at risk

Conventional surgery typically involves cutting through many layers of skin, muscle and other tissues such as organs and even bone to access the area of the body that is being operated upon. Not only can this be highly traumatic and painful, but it also can require lengthy healing times and exposes the patient to substantial risk of infection and other potentially serious surgical complications. Although less invasive treatments are often available, new research shows that surgical patients are not always informed of their options.

Minimally invasive procedure cuts risk, recovery time

Thanks to advancements in medical technology in recent years, many surgeries that were once highly invasive can now be performed in a far less invasive way through a procedure known as laparoscopic surgery, or laparoscopy. Doctors who perform this technique use very small cameras and surgical instruments, which are inserted through tiny tubes through small incisions in the lower abdomen.

There are various reasons why laparoscopy is not an option for every patient in every situation; however, when medically appropriate, the technique can be an effective way to minimize the risks, pain and recovery time that are typically involved in more invasive procedures. Additionally, due in large part to the elimination of unnecessary complications, laparoscopic surgery is often substantially less costly than conventional surgeries – often by a margin of thousands of dollars.

Laparoscopy adoption rates vary widely

Unfortunately, according to a report published in JAMA Surgery, a medical journal, many hospitals fail to let patients know when minimally invasive surgery may be an option as an alternative to conventional invasive surgery. As a result, some patients undergo surgical procedures that are more painful, risky and costly than necessary.

A recent report by National Public Radio on the study stated that if all hospitals offered laparoscopic surgery as often as those in the top one-third nationwide, it would eliminate more than 4,300 unnecessary surgical complications and nearly 170,000 days of hospitalization. In monetary terms, this would result in a savings of about $377 million per year. Unfortunately, however, hospitals vary dramatically in their rates of adoption – a circumstance the study’s lead author described as “one of the greatest disparities in American medicine.”

A matter of informed consent

Except in rare circumstances, such as life-threatening emergencies, a patient must give his or her informed consent before undergoing surgery or any other serious medical treatment. In order for informed consent to be possible, the patient must be advised on a number of topics including what the treatment entails, its likelihood of success, what risks are involved and – importantly – what alternatives are available. When a patient is harmed because the treatment provided is unnecessarily risky or invasive, it may be an issue of medical malpractice and a failure to obtain informed consent.

If you or a family member has suffered from an illness, injury or other complication that you believe may be linked to medical negligence, be sure to talk your situation over with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to learn about your rights and the available legal options. For a personalized consultation based on your specific circumstances, contact the law firm of Futterman, Sirotkin & Seinfeld, LLP.