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The 3 most common problems a lawyer hears from people who had bariatric weight loss surgery

Pre-operative and follow-up surgical care are critically important

Diets, exercise, medications, supplements: For some people, it seems that no matter what they try, it’s impossible to get their excess weight off. That's why over a quarter of a million Americans every year choose to have a bariatric weight loss surgery.

Years ago, I asked a nationally known bariatric surgery expert about his thoughts on the growing trend of weight loss surgery. He commented that after a person reaches a certain body mass index (BMI), it’s statistically unlikely, if not impossible, to lose and keep off the weight necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

We all know that excess weight contributes to a long list of health problems, including diabetes, metabolic disorders, orthopedic problems from worn-out joints, increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke, and even death. According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, 90% of patients who have bariatric weight loss surgery lose 50% of their excess body weight and keep it off long-term.

Despite the benefits that many people may receive from having bariatric weight loss surgery, these are the three most common problems that I hear over and over again from clients: 

1. How patients are corralled into a volume business with no personal attention, meaning many of the symptoms from complications are ignored.
2. Patients with severe pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea after bariatric surgery have their concerns downplayed, even though they can be signs of a major problem.
3. Patients who experience malnutrition after bariatric surgery suffer from a major complication.

It’s a volume business

There’s an old saying that if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. From complaints we’ve received from clients, it seems that some bariatric weight loss surgeons are more marketers than physicians. They take a “one-size-fits-all” approach rather than tailoring a treatment plan to an individual patient.

Here’s how it works in some surgical practices. 

• Patients only have direct access to the surgeon in group settings, rather than through individual physician-patient appointments. 

• A nurse or administrative staff member meets one-on-one with patients for screening, to get basic information, and to make treatment recommendations based on a checklist. 

• Then the patient is asked to watch an educational video. 

• After that, the surgeon may hold a group meeting with several patients who are considering a surgical procedure. 

This set-up leaves little opportunity for individualized attention and questions.

On surgery days, patients are lined up one after another. Some surgeons use hospital operating rooms, but others set up their own private operating rooms at an outpatient surgery center, so they can financially benefit from the lucrative facility fees paid by Medicare or private health insurance companies.

Some bariatric weight loss surgical practices treat post-operative care the same way as they handle pre-operative care—it’s all done in a group. In fact, some clients have said they saw some of the same people in the pre-operative “sales pitch” appointments, in the operating room (OR) waiting area, and in post-operative group appointments.

When surgeons treat patients in a volume business rather than as individuals, they tend to discount patient complaints such as pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Instead of realizing that they can be a sign of a serious operative complication, surgeons and staff members may automatically consider them as par for the course—until it’s too late.

Pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

When patients have operative or post-operative complications from a bariatric weight loss surgery, they can be terrible, even life-threatening. The most common complaints we hear are unrelenting constant pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

It seems that the potential benefits of bariatric weight loss surgery are uniformly emphasized, while the radical nature of the operations themselves are sometimes glossed over. Although there are numerous surgical options, each one of them results in a surgical alteration of the patient’s normal gastrointestinal anatomy and physiology. 

Some bariatric surgeries work by removing a portion of the stomach to restrict the volume of food that the patient can ingest. Other weight loss procedures work by bypassing a significant portion of the intestines, which restricts digestion and absorption.

Potential causes of these problems include:

• At any of the surgical sites, there can be accidental strictures, kinks, or cuts and leaks. 

• Strictures and kinks prevent the flow of food and water and can cause nausea and vomiting. 

• Unrecognized leaks can cause massive infections, sepsis, and severe pain. 

• Cutting out too much during a bypass surgery can result in intractable diarrhea. 

These are just a few of the things that can happen.

Surgeons and nursing staff need to provide individualized attention and post-operative care to be on the lookout for these complications. Some require a return to the operating room and the sooner that happens, the better the likelihood of a successful outcome for the patient.

Malnutrition

We have represented many clients who had poor bariatric weight loss surgical care and suffered from malnutrition. For some of them, it was obvious when they walked in our law firm door. Have you ever seen someone who had an unhealthy tone and color to their skin from malnutrition? We’ve seen malpractice victims who looked like skin and bones, struggling to maintain weight over 100 pounds—and remember, these people started out needing weight loss surgery.

Some patients experience malnutrition because of malabsorption that was a planned part of a bariatric surgery. Others have a problem holding any nutrients down because of constant nausea and vomiting or diarrhea.

In some cases, a dietitian can provide advice and guidance to help patients get the nutrients they need. In other severe cases, patients may need invasive total parenteral nutrition (TPN), where they receive total or supplemental nutrition through a permanent intravenous (IV) line.

When a patient is injured because of bariatric weight loss surgical medical malpractice, the injuries, damages, and fallout can be significant. Some patients become so ill that they lose their jobs. Some patients require expensive future medical care and supplies. 

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor bariatric weight loss care in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for a free consultation about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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