Medical Disasters and How to Avoid Them (Part 4)

The new documentary by Michael Moore called SICKO has launched nationwide
heralding the cry of health care reform due to the inadequacies of the
health care system. In “Medical Disasters and How to Avoid Them” Dr. Pierce Scranton, an Orthopedic Surgeon, arms us with practical tips on how to take charge of our own experiences while at a hospital and he teaches us how to protect ourselves and prevent any travesty that could occur. In a series of six articles, HealthWorld Online and Dr. Pierce Scranton, will provide
actual case by case, behind the scenes scenarios, along with tips on how
NOT to have these experiences happen to you. In the fourth installment you
will the importance of being beware of “free consultations” and being pro-active and asking questions about any recommended surgeries.


Case 4 – H.K.’s Vaginal Hysterectomy

H. K. was a 57 year old female experiencing mild, chronic abdominal discomfort. She saw an ad in her local newspaper announcing the opening of practice for a brand new general surgeon in town. It offered a “free first consultation.” Eager for a good deal and no waiting for an appointment, she immediately got in for a consultation. The doctor was a polite, professional middle-aged man. After a quick examination and X-ray he announced that she had very large uterine fibroids. It was his opinion that a “simple” vaginal hysterectomy would permanently correct her painful abdominal condition. She underwent the surgery, and recovered nicely. However, within a matter of months she noticed that the same abdominal pain was back, and that now she had blood in her stool. She called the surgeon’s office to make another appointment, but discovered from his receptionist that he had gone back to the east coast to defend himself in a “messy lawsuit.” He would be unavailable for at least a month. When she went back to her old family practice physician, after a thorough workup it was discovered that she had colon cancer and that it had now spread to her liver. It is possible that the cancer could have spread even before she saw the first surgeon, but his failure to make the correct diagnosis led to three month’s delay and certainly increased the risk.


How to ask questions and avoid this problem:



  1. Beware of newspaper ads or media pitches offering a “free consultation.” A good doctor’s reputation grows with good care, not by advertising come-ons.
  2. Always ask a new doctor in town where he practiced before and why he left that practice. A doctor that moves frequently is usually running either from personal or professional problems. A new doctor in town needs to be regarded very carefully before complete trust is given.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Any good doctor welcomes a second opinion. Request copies of your X-rays and laboratory studies and see someone outside that doctor’s office.
  4. When resection surgery is discussed, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor to explain what all the potential diagnoses are and why the doctor thinks your surgery is necessary. Make sure that all the options have been discussed. Sometimes cost-cutting institutions will encourage the cheapest form of treatment. Make sure you know all your choices.

Remember, it’s your health and well-being that’s on the line. Be engaged in the process, and stay healthy!

Avatar Written by Pierce Scranton MD

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