Learning a dangerous, impaired physician treated you can be a shock and a betrayal. If you or a loved one have been the victim of an impaired physician, please contact us right away for a free consultation.
When you visit a doctor, you place an immense amount of trust in that relationship. There’s an explicit understanding that your doctor is an expert in the field and you’re, quite literally, putting your life in their hands. So, to learn that an incompetent or impaired physician treated you, performed your surgery, or advised you of a treatment plan can be a terrifying realization.
Dangerous doctors put their patients at serious risk even when they don’t make mistakes. When dangerous doctors’ impairments do lead to mistakes, it can leave patients with life-altering, debilitating, or fatal injuries.
What Is An Impaired Physician?
An impaired physician is one whose medical judgment and technical skill is “impaired” by alcohol, drugs and/or mental illness. Doctors are held to a higher standard of performance generally and as seen in the extensive educational and training requirements they complete before practicing on their own. Anything that influences a doctor’s judgement can be an impairment.
What Are The Chances Of My Doctor Being “Impaired?”
Research shows that nearly 15% of doctors have an alcohol or drug problem at some point in their careers. Even more frighteningly, more than 100,000 medical professionals and health care providers practice under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both every year.
Is An Impaired Physician Dangerous?
Doctors are people and are susceptible to the same problems that plague others. They may be drawn to alcohol or drugs because of the stress of their work. They could have had an injury that led to a painkiller addiction. They may have mental health problems. However, there simply must be ZERO TOLERANCE for impaired physicians.
Doctors must have their wits about them when making life and death decisions or performing critical procedures. Just as we would not knowingly board a bus operated by a drunk driver or board an airplane with a pilot under the influence, we wouldn’t knowingly put our lives in the hands of impaired and dangerous doctors. BUT… how do you know if your doctor suffers from an impairment?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you probably would not know. Unless your doctor stumbled into the exam room smelling of alcohol, with bloodshot eyes, or babbling like a madman, you probably wouldn’t know they were impaired.
Additionally, mandatory drug testing for doctors is rare, and even if they had been tested, this information wouldn’t be available to you. By law, doctors, hospitals and others are able to keep this information a secret from the patient.
It’s difficult to know whether you’re dealing with an impaired physician or nurse because they can often hide their drug or alcohol use. Many remain high-functioning despite their addictions, so their impairment may not be obvious even to coworkers who see them every day. If they can maintain a professional demeanor, patients may not know whether they’re under the influence of a dangerous substance until a mistake is made.
Signs of an Impaired Physician
Dangerous Doctors in the Media
One of the most notable examples of an impaired physician is the case of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, also known as Dr. Death. Dr. Duntsch was a spinal surgeon from the Dallas area who became the first physician in the country to be sentenced to life in prison.
His conviction hinged on one of our clients, a 74-year-old woman who was maimed due to a surgery he botched on her spine. The surgeon was so impaired during her surgery that he misplaced spinal hardware, severed nerve roots, caused massive bleeding and left her with painful and disabling injuries.
But this wasn’t a one-time occurrence.
We represented many of Dr. Duntsch’s former patients who suffered similar tragedies. None of them had any clue he was impaired. They couldn’t know. The people and institutions that are supposed to protect patients knew, though, and they stood by and did nothing to stop him.
Throughout Dr. Duntsch’s tenure as a surgeon, two people died and 31 others were injured due to his negligence.
Why Are Impaired Physicians Still Practicing?
How to Find a Good Surgeon or Doctor
Learning that there are physicians like Dr. Duntsch who are criminally negligent or who treat patients while under the influence can be frightening. We all need to see a doctor at some point, and we want to be able to trust that we are getting the best possible care from them. The idea that they might be dangerous doctors who are drunk, high, or mentally unstable is deeply concerning. But there are ways to find a reliable surgeon or doctor.
- Whatever your ailment is, find out how often the physician handles cases like yours. If you need a gastrointestinal procedure, for instance, you want to work with a surgeon who has done that exact surgery many times. The less experience a surgeon has on a given procedure, the greater the risk of error and potentially fatal complications.
- Another dependable way to find a good surgeon is to ask about their success rate, along with statistics on failures and complications. That may feel like an uncomfortable question to ask, but you’re entrusting them with your health and your life, so you want to gather all the pertinent information to make this decision.
- You should also inquire about common complications the surgeon observes. Then, research whether these occur across many practices or whether it seems unique to this provider. Find out about the hospital’s infection rate as well, because post-operation infections can cause dire complications.
- Be sure to verify your surgeon’s credentials before scheduling a procedure. Not only should you ask them directly about their certifications, but you can also make sure they’re up to date by contacting the American Board of Medical Specialties. The Federation of State Medical Boards documents disciplinary actions the surgeon had been subjected to, so inquire about any issues that have come up in the past.
As noted above, this is not a foolproof strategy because many doctors manage to avoid the consequences of their negligent behaviors. However, a disciplinary record can help you identify an impaired physician that you absolutely will not want to work with.
Consult with Multiple Doctors or Surgeons
It’s a good idea to consult with more than one surgeon to compare their statistics and their approach to surgery. If one medical professional believes you can do a minimally invasive procedure while another is pushing for a major surgery, you may want to consult a third provider or dig into why their recommendations diverge so drastically. Being able to compare surgeons will help you make a more informed choice about finding the best doctor for you and determining which you believe is more trustworthy.
The big question in cases like that of Dr. Duntsch is how they continue to practice for so long. Why aren’t they suspended and investigated? Why aren’t their hospital privileges revoked? The unfortunate truth is that the system protects dangerous doctors.
Gather Feedback from Friend and Family
Getting opinions from friends and family is wise as well, although you’ll still want to do your due diligence concerning the doctor’s credentials and safety record. Just because they had a positive experience does not mean the person is a good doctor or that the surgeon’s performance is consistent. Take in as much information as you can so you can catch any potential red flags before you schedule your surgery.
Are You a Victim of a Dangerous Doctor?
If you or a loved one were the victim of an impaired, dangerous doctor and suffered severe, permanent, or debilitating injuries, contact us as soon as possible. An experienced malpractice attorney will be able to help you determine whether you have a case by examining your documentation, collecting evidence, and meeting with the relevant providers.
However, it’s important to act with urgency because there are many moving parts in malpractice cases. The sooner you speak with a lawyer, the sooner they can determine what documentation they need from you and what evidence may still be available. At Van Wey, Metzler & Williams, many times on cases involving dangerous doctors we bring in independent experts to review medical records and consult on cases prior to making a decision.
Malpractice cases are both legally and emotionally complex, so we urge victims and their families to consult with a lawyer who is experienced in this field of law. Hospitals and other medical providers retain extensive legal teams, so in an effort to protect your best interests, contact a firm that understands malpractice cases and can best represent you.
Van Wey, Metzler & Williams offers free consultations for those who believe they have been victims of medical malpractice by dangerous doctors.
We are passionate about improving the medical system by holding negligent doctors and hospitals accountable, and we believe in defending victims who have been wronged by the impaired physicians they trusted most.