July 1, 2012

The 65-year-old podiatrist at the center of our discussion over the past couple of posts was licensed to practice in 1973. During all these years, the state’s medical board — he doesn’t practice in Oregon — has never taken disciplinary action against him. And yet, since 1991, he has been named as a defendant in 21 lawsuits. Right now, the count is nine: eight medical malpractice suits and one wrongful death claim.

Medicine has changed since 1973, as has podiatry. This doctor, in fact, is responsible for sparking one major change in his field: the addition of ankle surgery to a podiatrist’s scope of practice. As a result, he is not especially popular with orthopedic surgeons.

The tension started in 1992 with the podiatrist’s application to perform ankle fusion surgery. Until then, ankle surgery was off-limits to podiatrists. At the request of the hospital, the medical board began grappling with the question of whether the scope of a podiatrist’s practice included surgery on the ankle.

About five years later, the board decided that the definition of the foot includes the ankle. The five years exacted a hefty toll, though, on the relationship between podiatrists and orthopedists.

The tension, according to the podiatrist’s spokesman, has yet to subside. The spokesman explained that the podiatrist had resigned his privileges at a hospital he’d long been affiliated with because he “was feeling pressured by orthopedic surgeons who were not happy that a podiatrist was performing highly technical surgeries such as ankle replacements. He elected to take his privileges to surgery centers where they welcomed the skills he has to offer.”

For the patients whose medical malpractice claims are pending, the explanation may not explain why they lost the lower parts of their legs following relatively routine surgery.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, “Hilliard podiatrist facing 8 malpractice lawsuits,” Courtney Hergesheimer, July 9, 2012


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