Over 260 patients have died in surgical centers since 2013

If you were given a choice, would you want to have an elective surgery at a facility where they would have to call 911 if something went wrong? With surgery centers sprouting up on the landscape like blue bonnet season in Texas, many patients unknowingly are put in this position every day.

It was not that long ago that if you needed to have anything other than the most minor of surgeries, the only choice was a hospital. Then some surgeons figured out that hospitals were making most of the profit from surgical procedures and found a way to get a bigger piece of the buy. This is how surgical centers were born, and with 5,600 such facilities nationwide they now outnumber hospitals.

Surgical centers are generally physician-owned, which means that surgeons get to bill health insurance companies for their professional fees, as well as the lucrative, profitable facility fees that would normally go to hospitals.

In my view, as an experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, the increased risk of surgical centers is not from bad surgeons. In fact, many highly-qualified and competent surgeons choose to perform operations at surgical centers, rather than hospitals.

With surgical centers playing host to more complex procedures, including orthopedic and spine surgeries, the principal risk with many surgical centers is that they are not equipped and staffed to handle emergencies that occur during or after surgery, such as when something goes wrong with anesthesia.

In 2007, concluding that it was unsafe for some surgeries to occur at surgical centers, Medicare reported that surgical centers do not have equivalent safety standards, staff training, and equipment as hospitals. That is why surgical centers frequently must call 911 when something goes wrong. We cannot say how often that this occurs because there is no legal reporting requirement.

Kaiser Health News and USA Today recently published the results of a year-long investigation into surgical center safety under these circumstances. According to their reporting, since 2013, over 260 patients have died in what were planned to be in-and-out outpatient procedures in surgical centers.

Their reporting is based on research and interviews concerning multiple bad-outcome cases in several states. They discussed several instances where surgeons and anesthesia providers left the surgery center shortly after a procedure, meaning that no one qualified to handle a patient emergency was available when one occurred.

What you can do

Under Texas law, physicians must comply with the informed consent process before operating on a patient at a surgical center or hospital. According to my clients, surgeons often recommend surgery to patient and state, matter-of-factly, that they perform such procedures at surgical centers and give no other option.

To improve your safety as a patient, I suggest doing some research before selecting a surgeon. Start by checking the surgeon’s profile with the Texas Medical Board, which will list hospitals where he or she has staff privileges. If a surgeon has no hospital privileges, that would be a red flag to me. This will also help you select a surgeon who has privileges at a hospital of your choice.

If your surgeon recommends a procedure at a surgical center, ask about the option of going forward to a hospital instead. This should trigger a discussion about the benefits and risks of each choice—one that should happen anyway, but often does not.

We are here to help

We here at Painter Law Firm, handle surgical center medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits in Houston and throughout the State of Texas. Click here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form or call us at 281-580-8800.

All consultations are free and, because we only represent clients on a contingency fee, you will owe us nothing unless we win your case. We handle cases in the Houston area and all over Texas. We are currently working on medical malpractice lawsuits in Houston, The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Conroe, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Bryan/College Station, and Waco.


Robert Painter is a 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 against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2017, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. In May 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys 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 for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.