Saving Your Clients from Jerks, Crooks and Malintents

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(Apologies for the lists that no longer work in this post. In early summer 2014, About.com deleted almost 1000 posts and articles I had written. The points below are still valid, but I wanted you to know why the links may not produce what you expect.)

I’m angry. And I’m appalled, too. And I think that you, as advocates, can be effective gatekeepers, guarding your client-patients from these kinds of providers.

fingerI’ve just finished blogging at About.com about two situations that have come to light recently. A third belongs here, too – from the general news.

  • The story of an orthopedic surgeon who practices right in my own backyard, replacing and resurfacing hips. He has been accused (and has lost his job, and his hospital has been sanctioned) of waiting until his patients were anesthetized, then whacking them on the buttocks and calling them derogatory names. Yes, seriously. He has now left the hospital where all that took place, but has simply taken up residence in a hospital a few blocks away – meaning – he and his obnoxiousness are still performing surgeries everyday. What a jerk!  (And – I have to wonder – how is it that he did hundreds of these surgeries and none of the other OR staff reported him? How did they sleep at night?)
  • The story of a now-patient advocate whose wife died of bone cancer several years ago.  She underwent spinal surgery and it went badly – very badly. The husband (who is now a member of APHA) tried to reach out to the surgeon after the surgery, but the surgeon refused to speak to him. So, on the suggestion of his counselor, the husband began to blog about his experience. Immediately, through her attorney, the surgeon asked him to remove the blog posts from the web, and he did. But a few years later, the surgeon sued him for defamation! I’m sorry, but any surgeon who would refuse to speak to the spouse of a patient who had suffered at her hands, and who would, years later, sue the husband for trying to get past his grief – THAT is a malintent.
  • The crooks are those doctors who are committing fraud in several ways, from conducting unneeded tests and procedures just so they can make more money, to stealing from the government (our taxes) and from your clients’ pockets.  They are the doctors who are committing Medicare fraud, or they are balance billing or upcoding, all of which are illegal. These doctors are crooks, plain and simple, stealing patients’ health and money, and because they do it on a grand scale (stealing from payers), they are stealing from us all.

So what does this have to do with patient advocates?

Advocates who work with clients on their medical needs, helping them research doctors or coordinate care, are in a position to protect those clients from these jerks, crooks and malintents. Imagine if one of your clients had been the patient of one of these surgeons and you had missed the opportunity to prevent it?  Whether you provide lists of doctors or surgeons to your patients, help them review doctors and surgeons through their insurers, accompany them to appointments, or have any other opportunity to influence their choice of providers – you must be sure you’re protecting them from those non-compassionate, self-centered, anti-social egotists and thieves.

It’s the right thing to do. And you may be protecting your own backside, too.

Advocates who help clients review or negotiate their medical bills are in a position to figure out which ones are attempting to upcode or balance bill, and possibly to figure out which ones are committing Medicare fraud, too.

How can you protect them?

By doing some diligent research on the doctors they already see, and making sure that these doctors don’t show up on any lists you present to them.  Here’s how to research doctors’ track records, including malpractice. (By the way – doctors’ ratings sites are NOT a good resource, as I show in my About.com post.)

If those doctors and surgeons are never suggested to begin with, then there should be no problem.  However, how do you tell them someone should be jettisoned from their list if they already see that provider?  Show them the evidence of problem behavior if you find it.  Malpractice, sanctions, arrests, reports of addictive behaviors, even other patients’ comments.  (Ratings are no good because they rarely asked the right questions, but comments can actually be quite revealing.)

We still can’t protect them or ourselves 100%. But we can certainly try. And at the very least, our clients will know we are trying to be helpful and protective – which they will much appreciate.

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Share your experience or join the conversation!

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Comments

  1. Patrick Neis  April 28, 2014

    I agree, I have witnessed many instances of physician arrogance and temper outbursts resulting in serious equipment damage; since I used to repair the equipment. The emotional bullying of staff calling them profane names and yelling at them in front of their peers. Since these physicians were bringing in so much revenue the hospitals would tend to ignore or diminish any reports of such wrong doing. The physicians need to act professionally with their patients and the staff they work with. I am not saying that they are all like this , but it only takes a few to make the workplace hostile.

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  2. gvotour  April 28, 2014

    As the advocate mentioned above (the one who was sued) I want to say a heartfelt thankyou to Trisha for writing about this. I was fortunate enough to find pro-bono legal representation, and with their help, we gave [that doctor] a year long battle that ended in a settlement agreement that we set the terms for. I had to find balance between my need for closure over my wife’s death and my drive to be an advocate of medical transparency… So for 13 months I held to the ethical high ground and prepared to go to court. AFTER we moved the case to federal court and filed several motions to dismiss and to compel discovery, we offered one last settlement offer and at the very last moment it was accepted.

    No nondisclosure, no admission of guilt and no damages were OUR terms, and we called their bluff. My attorneys and I went up against a millionaire neurosurgeon who operated on my wife and WE WON without even getting to court.

    This is such an important topic that I now reaching out to the media to allow patients to feel empowered to speak up, and to encourage doctors to be more compassionate. I have written a blog that replaces the one I was sued for, and this one is lawsuit-proof. You can read it at gvotour. wordpress. com, be warned it is long and very detailed. I also continue to write on ethics in health care at my ongoing blog, fierceadvocacy. wordpress. com, and have written about the lawsuit there as well. “On Being Malpatient” discusses the reasons patients (and advocates) need to be safe from lawsuits when they express their truthful opinions online. Feel free to contact me directly if you find yourself threatened, I am not a lawyer but I have learned a bit about the law this last year and I am happy to share.

    Remember this if nothing else: If we set realistic expectations of our doctors, we can speak out when they do not meet them. If we feel wronged, we must speak out, with truthful voices, to hold them accountable so we can continue to trust them with our lives. When we do, they should not be able to wrongly threaten or harm us.

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