Last December, Peter Drier - a 37 year old from New York - went in for surgery to fix the herniated discs in his neck. A bank technology manager, Peter is well versed in rules and regulations and knows that big procedures like a neck surgery require an amplitude of paperwork. So, he happily signed the consent forms. Apart from this, he also looked at his insurance records and made sure all was in order so that when the bills started to come he would be able to take care of everything like clockwork.
His surgery was successful, and so was his plan to foot the bills: $56,000 for the Lenox Hill Hospital, Manhattan; $4,300 from the anesthesiologist; $133,000 from his orthopedist. But what had him stumped was a bill for $117,000 from an "assistant surgeon" who he had never met and who had assisted in Mr. Drier's surgery without his consent.
The Queens based neurosurgeon may have been required to help out during the complicated surgery, but the fact still remains that Mr. Drier was not told about his presence or the fact that he would even be present in the same room before by his attending doctors. Not only is this a breach of protocol, it is also completely ridiculous and disgraceful to ask a patient to foot a doctor's bill without giving him the option to negotiate or refuse. Mr. Drier was given neither.
Drive-by Doctoring and Surprise Bills
In many hospitals across the country, you will find a doctor asking his colleague or a fellow physician to help out on a case. Sometimes, the 'help' is restricted only to discussions about the best way of treating a particular patient and doctors are obviously grateful for the insight that their fellow medics can, and often do, provide them with. But sometimes, as in the case of Mr. Drier, a fellow physician can even be called in to assist during the surgery.
This is called 'drive-by doctoring' and it is an increasingly common phenomena. Now, there is no reason why a doctor cannot ask for help in order to provide his patient with the best care. But the practice of asking assistants for help in situations which do not call for any outside help is questionable.
Also, when a doctor slaps his patient with a bill from an assistant doctor without having first explained to him why the assistant needed to be brought in, there is a clear violation of 'informed consent'. In the garb of providing expert medical care, doctors and healthcare providers have latched onto this new practice of drive-by doctoring and are using it as a money-making scheme.
No End in Sight
Medical insurers are cutting down reimbursements for hospitals, and hospitals and medical care providers have found a good way of skirting around the deficit by fleecing their patients for money. In Mr. Drier's case, the attending doctor Dr. Mu supposedly did not share his proceeds with the primary surgeon Dr. Nathaniel L. Tindel. But, in most cases this is how it happens. A New York law that will come in effect on March of 2015 will hopefully aid patients who have been sprung with surprise bills. But until then, there hardly seems to be any respite.
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