My dad, who is 70 years old, has been suffering terribly from arthritis in both of his knees for the past few years. His doctor, who was initially reluctant to refer him to a surgeon for bi-lateral knee-replacement surgery, finally provided him with a referral late last year--in December, to be exact. He was then scheduled for surgery on February 27, 2013. Two weeks before the surgery was to take place, the doctor's assistant contacted us to inform us that the doctor would have to postpone the surgery for fear that my dad's insurance (medicaid & medicare part A) would not cover the therapy. We begged and pleaded with her to convince the doctor not to delay the surgery and faxed her a letter signed by my dad as promise to pay in the event that the insurance does not cover it. The doctor accepted the note, but a few days later (five days before the surgery), we got a call that my dad needed a cardiac clearance. So, they pretty much waited until the last minute to inform us that this component was missing from his record. Thus, the surgery had to be delayed until June 19th. Needless to say, my dad's condition continued to worsen as he had to wait almost four months to have the surgery. On the day of the surgery, my dad was asked not to take anything by mouth, including pain medication. We watched my dad crawl backwards--like an animal--down sixteen steps inside the house and an additional five steps outside. Observing him was extremely heart-wrenching for all of us as he was experiencing excruciating pain and could not be medicated. The process of getting him out of the house and into the car took approximately 45 minutes. He gets to the hospital and gets prepped and all of his bloodwork was completed, vitals were assessed and all consents for treatment were signed. Myself, both of my sisters, my brother-in-law and my daughter had requested time off from work to be there to support him. My mom, who was there as well, is retired. When we arrived there, one of my sisters asked the nurse a simple question out of sheer curiosity: "What material is used to replace the knee?" When the nurse told the doctor that my sister had a question, the doctor became upset and cancelled the surgery and stated that he didn't understand why we have so many questions about a "simple knee-replacement surgery." When the risk manager told the doctor to at least come and talk to us (his family and my dad), he refused. He then sent a written notice to my dad stating that he is terminating their patient-physician relationship. We feel that this was unethical practice by the doctor and would like to know if we have a case for pain and suffering. My dad, who has to continue to suffer immensely from this debilitating condition, has gone from a cane to a walker and is now in a wheelchair. Additionally, we have to go through the stress and hassle of locating another surgeon. My dad has now become suicidal because he states that the physical pain is too great to bear and has to have 24 hour, around-the-clock supervision. We, as his family, are having a difficult time watching him suffer as well. Please let me know if we have a case. Thank for your time.
In a word, no.
The doctor does not have any obligation to take every patient, and doctors would be within their rights to decide that someone whose relatives were already on red alert asking questions might become a "problem" later. It may not be fair but it is the way our system works.
Now, your father and his condition may or may not be related somewhat, completely, or not at all to the doctor's conduct. Regardless, this is not malpractice and it is not negligence. It is poor bedside manner, poor communication, or perhaps overzealous patient advocates, or maybe even a doctor concerned about being paid. Either way, it is not a case that can be won under any theory of which I am aware.
Your dad should find a new doctor and move forward on getting the knee replacement and see a therapist regarding his suicidal issues.
Stephen L. Hoffman
Law Office of Stephen L. Hoffman LLC
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Agree that probably an instance of the doctor becoming perhaps overly sensitive to family questions. The delay in scheduling the surgery alone, though regrettably prolonging your father's pain, would not rise to the level of malpractice. Many calls attorneys receive regarding malpractice questions, are prompted by poor physician "bedside manner"; not unusual but not malpractice. Good luck finding another orthopedic surgeon and good luck to your father.