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Complications that pay out up to $10 million in bariatric weight loss surgeries

Death is the number 1 bariatric complication leading to a medical malpractice claim

In 2022, the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery released its first-ever report from its closed-claim (insurance payout) registry. The two most shocking findings to me are:

• Death was the most common outcome that led to medical malpractice lawsuits (27.1% of all claims).

• Monetary awards of all types of complications topped out at $10,400,000.

Common complications from Bariatric Weight Loss Surgeries

The study found that death was the number 1 complication leading to a bariatric weight loss surgery medical malpractice lawsuit. Complications that led to death were due to common culprits:

Bowel obstructions. A bowel obstruction is a medical emergency that can cause part of the intestines to stop the passage of nourishment and must be promptly diagnosed and addressed. Bowel obstructions can lead to leakage of intestinal contents into the bloodstream, which can cause a dangerous abdominal infection called peritonitis and sepsis.

Surgical technical errors. In my experience, some of the most common surgical technical errors include creating kinks and strictures that obstruct food from passing through the gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to unrelenting nausea and vomiting.

Wound infections. Surgical incision sites sometimes become red, puffy, and infected. When a surgical wound opens up, it’s called wound dehiscence. If wound infections aren’t appropriately diagnosed and treated, the infection can spread internally.

Bleeding. During surgery, bleeding can start without the surgeon and operating room (OR) team recognizing it. Uncontrolled bleeding can lead to organ failure and other serious medical conditions.

Perforations. When there is an accidental tear of the stomach or bowel during surgery and it isn’t recognized, the contents of the bowels leak into the abdominal cavity. This can lead to infection and sepsis. Surgeons, physicians, and nurses need to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of infection, which can be an indicator of a perforation. To repair a perforation, the surgeon needs to return the patient to the operating room.

Nutrient deficiencies. Some bariatric surgeries deliberately alter the gastrointestinal tract to cause malabsorption, which causes the reduction of calories that are metabolized by the body. It’s important to monitor the post-operative diet and nutrition, and for surgeons and physicians to order supplements, as needed. Probably the most dreaded nutritional deficiency after bariatric surgery is thiamine, which can lead to a brain injury called Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

Most complications are preventable

A panel of experts from the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery found that most (nearly 60%) of the complications from insurance payouts could’ve been prevented by the surgeon. Incredibly, they concluded that just 20.9% of overall care was appropriate.

Which procedure leads to the most malpractice claims?

Roux-en-Y gastric bypasses are complicated surgeries that reroute the intestines to deliberately create malabsorption. This procedure accounts for nearly half (45.6%) of all medical malpractice claims arising from bariatric weight loss surgeries.

On the other hand, sleeve gastrectomy (gastric sleeve) procedures accounted for less than 10% of medical malpractice claims. That’s noteworthy, considering that over 70% of all bariatric surgeries are gastric sleeves.

Is your hospital accredited for bariatric surgical standards?

Bariatric weight loss surgeries are performed at a variety of facilities, ranging from outpatient surgery centers to accredited hospitals. Yet, not all hospitals are the same. Accrediting agencies such as the American College of Surgeries certified or accredited hospitals that recognize bariatric surgical standards.

Bariatric surgery accreditation or certification is a voluntary process, but it’s an important indicator of patient safety.

To put it another way, hospitals that go through the process of obtaining bariatric surgery accreditation tend to have higher patient safety standards and pose less risk to patients.

That observation is backed up by the insurance payout study, which found that nearly 60% of all bariatric weight loss surgery medical malpractice claims arose from hospitals that were not accredited for bariatric surgery.

That’s why I recommend talking to your healthcare providers about a hospital or surgery center’s accreditation status before proceeding with surgery. If it’s not accredited, find out if there’s another option.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of shoddy bariatric weight loss care in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer 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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