Patient Safety - Reality Check

Dr. Michael E. Sachs

Dr. Michael E. Sachs had his offices on Central Park South, a prestigious part of Manhattan. Yet, according to the New York Times on April 24, 2005, he was one of the most sued doctors in New York State. The State Health Department banned him from performing certain surgeries without the supervision of another surgeon. According to the article, at that time he stated on his web site that he has been affiliated with the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary "for the last 23 years" even though he was not affiliated with that hospital or any other.

Advertising Abroad

Perhaps that is why he had taken to promoting his services in foreign countries, to attract a clientele who would not know about his history and who would have a more difficult time suing when things went wrong. He already had 33 settlements in lawsuits. How are patients to be able to survive in a "buyer beware" climate when they are not able to learn these kinds of things about their healthcare providers?

You can be certain that all of the patients who settled with him were required to sign gag orders preventing them from telling anyone what their problems were. Patients who did not get settlements and so had not signed gag orders still would not be able to share their experiences for fear of being sued for defamation. Either way, patients do not get to communicate with each other about their healthcare in order to protect themselves.

Whose Rights?

Doctors have a right to protect their reputations, but patients should have the right to protect their lives. Medicine is not like other areas of life. Your life can be ruined in a moment by someone in medicine who happens to be in the mood to ruin yours. People in medicine are so well insulated that they can act out in destructive ways without patients even being able to speak about it. The person who ruins your life knows that. That's why he/she is not inhibited from doing it. An environment that protects even intentional injury, easily protects less sinister problems.

This is not acceptable

Dr. Sachs began promoting himself to a more distant population that would be even less able to learn about him. Whether or not that was his motivation is immaterial to the problem. However good or bad a surgeon he may be, patients have no reasonable way to find out. Systems are not in place that allow informed assessments to be made and communicated to the patient community. Whether or not the healthcare industry admits it, it places more importance on the ability of its operators to earn livings than it does on the well-being of patients.

Patient safety is not valued by the medical community highly enough to entrust it with ensuring it. We need to lift the threats against patients that require their silence. We need to enable "Consumer Reports" and any others who might be interested to assess healthcare and inform the public of what it finds.

The article in the New York Times talks about a patient who had flown from Ireland for a face lift. She died. In her knapsack was a newspaper article that called Dr. Sachs "a leading cosmetic and facial reconstruction surgeon" with a "highly confidential client list." Even though her sister was a nurse in Boston she still had no reasonable way to assess this plastic surgeon. 

"My Institute"
You can get one too

According to an article in The Independent (in London), May 2, 2005, at that time Sachs's web site spoke of his directorship of the 'Sachs Institute' in New York and his affiliation with the prestigious New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. According to the article, it appeared that the Institute consists only of himself and his own clinic. Where is the average patient to find such information about providers unless they have gotten noticed by the press?

Sachs began courting patients in Ireland in 2002. In Ireland he gave interviews and appeared on television claiming he had performed 42,000 rhinoplasties (nose- jobs) and said that most Irish plastic surgeons wouldn't be allowed to practice in New York for five minutes.

Even Oprah

If Dr. Sachs can go on Oprah, which he did twice, patients need a counterpoint from someone else. On Oprah he is not likely to warn people that he is one of the most sued doctors in New York. However good he may be, patients need more than his word, or the word of his colleagues. It is only because the death of a one of his patients happened to catch the attention of someone in the news that there finally is some word on this doctor.

Having the news notice a patient safety problem is a rare thing. Patients are sent everyday to doctors who have not been in the news and who cannot be assessed in any intelligent way. Patients and others need to be able to talk about medicine without fear of lawsuits.

It's not religion. Patients need more than faith.