Weight Loss Surgery and Medical Malpractice

Weight Loss Surgery and Medical Malpractice

At The Doan Law Firm, we are shocked by the number of medical malpractice cases that come to our attention which involve bariatric (weight-loss) medicine, particularly surgical procedures that are intended to alter the patient’s digestive system. In many such cases the operating physician 1) had not tried non-surgical weight-loss interventions (e.g. dietary restrictions and exercise programs) prior to surgery, 2) failed to inform the patient of the risks associated with surgery involving any obese patient, 3) committed some error during the surgery itself, or 4) failed to provide adequate follow-up care and/or detect a known complication of bariatric surgery.

In today’s post the medical malpractice lawyer at The Doan Law Firm will provide an overview of bariatric surgery as well as the complications that are known to occur following these procedures. He will also provide suggestions to those who believe they may have been a victim of medical malpractice involving weight-loss surgery.

What is bariatric surgery?

Bariatric, or weight-loss, surgery is one of the most common non-emergency surgical procedures performed in the United States. Regardless of the specific type of operation performed, all bariatric surgeries involve some change in the patient’s digestive tract such as banding of the stomach, gastric balloons or even “short-circuiting” the digestive tract so the patient will not absorb food normally and thus lose weight. In general, bariatric surgical procedures can be summarized as follows:

  • Gastric banding

In the gastric banding procedure, a laparoscope (a metal tube with a special light on one end) to is used to place an inflatable band around the outside of the stomach and then inflated. This reduces the volume of food the stomach can hold and the patient feels “full” after eating a relatively small amount of food. When combined with a weight-loss diet, gastric banding offers weight loss with a reduced rate of post-operative complications.

Complications associated with gastric banding include improper positioning of the band at the time of surgery, over-inflation of the band leading to erosions on the surface of the stomach and leakage of the gas (usually helium) used to inflate the band, requiring another operation to replace the defective band..

  • Gastric balloon

In contrast to gastric banding, a gastric balloon is inserted directly into the stomach and then inflated. After inflation, the patient feels a sense of fullness after eating a small amount of food and weight loss occurs. Complications of gastric balloons include over-inflation which can lead to ulcerations in the stomach’s lining, gas leakage, and positioning of the balloon in a location that obstructs food from leaving the stomach. The latter complication can occur within days or even months after the balloon is inserted.

  • Gastric stapling

Gastric stapling is a non-reversible surgical procedure where the surgeon reduces the size of the stomach by using surgical staples rather than a banding or balloon. The procedure is usually accomplished via a laparoscope and the patient benefits from a relatively short recovery time as well as avoiding the risks associated with surgically opening his or her abdomen.

The risks associated with laparoscopic gastric stapling include those related to general anesthesia in an obese patient, leakage of stomach contents at the stapling site as well as reflux of stomach acid and partially digested food into the esophagus.

  • Gastrectomy

In bariatric surgery, gastrectomy is the removal of part of the stomach and the reattachment of the remaining portion of the stomach to the small intestine. Weight loss then follows because food bypasses much of the small intestine, where food absorption normally takes place. In addition to the immediate risks associated with surgery on a morbidly-obese patient, long-term complications of gastrectomy include:

  • Chronic diarrhea, particularly associated with “Dumping Syndrome;”
  • Ulceration/breakdown at the site where the stomach is attached to the intestine, caused by acid from the stomach, and
  • Nutritional deficits caused by the body’s inability to absorb food via the small intestine.

In addition to the above, gallstones and inflammation of the gallbladder are known to occur in up to 30% of all bariatric surgical patients. Since gallstones can be easily detected by a 15-minute ultrasound examination, failure to evaluate pain in the upper right section of the abdomen in a patient with a history of post-surgical weight loss could be interpreted as medical malpractice.

Contacting a medical malpractice lawyer

Although this post deals with bariatric surgery, it is well-known in the medical profession that surgical errors are more common than previously suspected. In an editorial (“Why do surgeons continue to perform unnecessary surgery?”) published in the January 2017 issue of Patient Safety in Surgery, Philip F. Stahel of the University of Colorado School of Medicine noted that:

“In spite of a multiplicity of global patient safety initiatives … we continue to fall short of protecting our patients from preventable harm. This unrecognized problem has escalated so far that medical errors currently rank as the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. Strikingly, in the 21st century, we still have to come to terms with the absurd reality that it is significantly safer to board a spacecraft … or a nuclear submarine than to be admitted to a U.S. hospital.” [Emphasis added]

If you suspect that you may have been a victim of medical malpractice involving bariatric surgery we invite you to contact the medical malpractice lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a national personal injury law practice with offices located throughout the country.

When you contact our firm, your case review and first consultation with our medical malpractice lawyer is always free of charge and does not obligate you to hiring us as your legal counsel. After your case review and consultation with our staff, if you decide that a lawsuit is in order and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement we will win for you.

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