Why I Wouldn’t Want Dr. Oz to Operate on Me

by John McKiggan

Pat Malone is a friend of mine and an excellent malpractice lawyer in Washington D.C. He’s also a great source of information about issues pertaining to medical malpractice. That’s why I frequently read his blog and just came across once of his recent posts Should Mehmet Oz Operate on You?

Who is Dr. Oz?

You would have to be living under a rock (or not own a television) not to know that Dr. Oz is an American surgeon who was featured on the Oprah show and now has his own television series – The Dr. Oz Show. His daily program focuses on medical issues.

So what does Dr. Oz have to do with medical malpractice law? As Pat Malone explains, Dr. Oz was a surgeon at the New York Presbyterian Hospital until his showbiz career took off. Since then, he operates there just one day a week.

From the OR to the Television Studio

The New Yorker wrote an article about Oz’s television success. The article speaks about Oz’s qualifications and expertise and then delves into the oddity that is show business:

“Oz is an experienced surgeon, yet almost daily he employs words that serious scientists shun, like ‘startling,’ ‘breakthrough,’ ‘radical,’ ‘revolutionary,’ and ‘miracle.’ There are miracle drinks and miracle meal plans and miracles to stop aging and miracles to fight fat.”

Dr. Oz has moved from being a full-time surgeon at one of the top hospitals in the United States, to a daytime-television entertainer. There is no issue with his move into show-biz. The issue is whether he should be permitted to continue to perform life-threatening surgeries intermittently?

Pat asks whether Dr. Oz’s skills can stay up-to-date without the constant practice that other, full-time, surgeons receive.

10,000 Hours

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become really successful, or a world-class expert, at any specific task.

No doubt this theory applies to doctors as well – it is clear that thousands of hours are required for surgeons to master their skills.

Can You Forget How to Ride a Bike?

Perhaps Dr. Oz would say that surgery is like riding a bike. After spending thousands of hours in operating rooms, he can’t forget what he has learned.

It’s true that scientists have proven that you can’t forget how to ride a bike.

But what if they stop practicing regularly, like Dr. Oz has? Do skills deteriorate if you are not practicing those skills every day? Surely conducting triple bypass surgery is not like riding a bike.

Surgery isn’t Like Riding a Bike!

This study from Columbia University showed that surgical skills deteriorated within months and ” fine motor skills, required to perform more difficult tasks, deteriorated more than skills needed for easier tasks.”

Turns out that maintaining surgical skills isn’t like riding a bike. What a surprise.

Continuing Education isn’t Continuing Practice

Most medical associations and Hospital policies require doctors to mantain some level of continuing education. According to the New York Presbyterian Hospital website they have a continuing education program. The program is mostly clinical in nature and is provided to medical and surgical staff through the Columbia and Cornell Universities.

However, continuing education programs are usually meant to keep physicains informed about the latest developments in the profession. The programs are not meant to replace clinical practice: in other words, actually performing medical skills on a day-to-day basis.

Why I Wouldn’t Want Dr. Oz to Operate on Me

I think it’s fair to say that (fortunately) there is little chance I will ever need Dr. Oz’s services. I have no doubt he is a skilled surgeon. But is he as skilled as he was before he began his television career?

Every hospital has their version of “Dr. Oz”. A senior doctor who is highly skilled, and well respected. But perhaps the doctor has taken on other administrative duties that reduces their OR time. Maybe the doctor spends a great deal of time teaching medical students or travelling to lecture to other doctors at continuing medical education programs.

So my answer to Pat Malone’s hypothetical question is that if I was undergoing complicated, life threatening surgery I wouldn’t want “Dr. Oz” who is only in the operating room once a week. I would want the surgeon who is in the OR every day practicing their skills by actually treating and helping their patients.

Medical Malpractice?

Surgeons owe a duty to their patients be in-practice and ready-to-go when called upon to perform a surgical procedure.

If a surgeon’s ‘rustiness’ results the doctor failing to meet the expected standard of care and causes harm to a patient, that would almost certainly be grounds for an action against the surgeon. It would also raise a potential claim against the hospital for permitting the surgeon to perform the operation while out-of-practice.

What Do You Think?

If you had to undergo surgery would you want Dr. Oz to be doing the procedure? Please let me know in the comments.

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