Back Surgery Problems: Part 1

Lee S. Goldsmith, M.D., LLB

Spinal surgery has evolved over the last 30 years. The training of the surgeons has improved. The advent of CAT scans and MRI’s provided the surgeon with the information needed as to the exact pathology that would be found and problem that should be treated.  In the early 2000’s, intraoperative monitoring was introduced so that the surgeon could be told, in real time, when a problem arose during the operation and could take steps to prevent injury to the patient. Generally, the surgeons performing this surgery are well-trained and in the operating room know what they are doing.

There are two problems.

What happens before you go into the operating room:

Spine surgery is expensive and has attracted a group who see the surgery as an opportunity to make money at the expense of the patient. A laminectomy of the lower back or the the neck area can often be done without the use of hardware or doing spinal fusions.  However, the payment to the surgeon is based, in part, on the technical nature of the surgery and that technical nature includes implantation of hardware. Often it is not necessary.

We have been involved on two occasions where multiple suits were brought against neurosurgeons who did unnecessary and unindicated surgeries. In one case, we found that the neurosurgeons had done 300 such operations. Fifty-six families joined with us in the litigation and we stopped them.

However, when it occurs to one patient, it is often hard to prove.

A second issue is what occurs if you have been in an accident. With automobile insurance, there is often a sum set aside for medical care. Your attorney may well refer you to a physician, and those consults will be covered by your insurance. However, too often the medical practitioner will indicate that you may need more medical care and want to perform surgery. How will you know if the physician is suggesting surgery for his benefit because he knows that there will be funds to cover the costs or because it is good for your condition?  We have seen too many such victims. 

The key to protecting yourself is getting more than one opinion. There are enough good individuals in practice that the likelihood of receiving misinformation from two surgeons is slim. Listen to both of your consults, listen to their reasoning and carefully weigh the options.