Inexperienced young surgeons are flooding hospitals as medical schools cut back on operating-room training. The results can be dangerous – even deadly – for patients, says a top cardiologist.
Doctors don’t get nearly as much surgical training as in the past because of new rules that limit hospital work hours.
“When I went through training, I was on call every day for years,” said Chauncey Crandall, M.D., director of preventive services at the Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic.
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“Now they want to protect young doctors from fatigue, but the result is that they are graduating doctors who are undertrained and don’t have the surgical experience they need. This is a terrible thing for patients.”
A recent national study published in the Annals of Surgery evaluated the operating skills of young trainees in the wake of restrictions that limit their workload to prevent them from becoming sleep-deprived. The findings were surprising and distressing.
Some 30 percent of new surgical trainees can’t perform a routine surgical procedure (such as the laparoscopic removal of a gallbladder), according to hospital surgical directors surveyed. Furthermore, 66 percent are unable to operate for 30 minutes unsupervised during a major surgical procedure. Almost a quarter are unable to recognize early signs of surgical complications.
“This is going to only get worse,” said Dr. Crandall, author of the No. 1 Amazon best-selling book The Simple Heart Cure: The 90-Day Program to Stop and Reverse Heart Disease. “Patients have to do what they can to protect themselves.”
If you need surgery, here are steps Dr. Crandall recommends:
- Get a second opinion to make sure you actually need the surgery. If possible, get that opinion from a doctor who is not part of the same group that gave you the original evaluation.
- Seek a seasoned surgeon between 50 and 70 years old. Even surgeons in their 70s are preferable to the young surgeons being graduated today.
- When you select a surgeon, make sure he or she will actually be doing the surgery, and not handing off the task to a surgical fellow or surgical intern.
- Do Internet research, but be aware that data can be manipulated. Check Health Grades (www.healthgrades.com), which provides information on a surgeon’s medical training, board certifications, areas of expertise, malpractice suits, medical complaints, and patient satisfaction.
- If possible, get the opinion of a local critical care nurse. They often know the best surgeons. Ask friends, relatives, hospital volunteers, or anyone else you can think of who might be able to pass along your question to a hospital nurse.
- Ask for recommendations from primary care physicians or any of the surgeon’s colleagues.
- Don’t be afraid to travel outside of your community to get the best surgeon.
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