Let's go through everybody's favorite high school exercise, the algebraic word problem:
Somewhere in the US is a busy, and by all accounts, good and caring cardiothoracic surgeon. Let's call him Surgeon A. He is a member of a group of well respected cardiac surgeons; let's call them Surgery Group X. Surgeon A and Surgery Group X receive patients in consultation from a variety of sources, but many come from a particular group of cardiologists --- Cardiology Group Y.
Believing they can increase their revenue, the cardiologists in Cardiology Group Y approach Surgery Group X with an offer: join us as our employees, and you will get a good salary and see all of our patients! They are mathematically stating:
Enter Patient C, who is in need of heart surgery as determined by a cardiologist in Cardiology Group Y....and who has been operated on by Surgeon A.....and who, upon being informed of the need for more surgery, specifically requests Surgeon A, whom he likes and trusts. His formula is therefore:
Slick Attorney G, who sues Cardiology Group Y and Hired Gun Z for fraud and battery on behalf of Patient C. And who wins -- big. To the tune of $2.25 million in compensatory damages, and $2.75 million in punitive damages, finding the two physicians and their group guilty of fraud, and Hired Gun Z guilty of battery -- for having operated on Patient C without having valid consent to do so.
And that, my friends, is a far more harsh way to learn "New Math" than the way I was instructed in school. There is no insurance coverage for that sort of verdict, and no amount of "spin" can make this most unseemly deal look even remotely redeeming. You can read a less mathematic account of this very real case in Surgery News (bottom of page 4). Having experienced this type of behavior first hand on more than a few occasions, I wonder what the effect of this ruling will have on physicians who have more than a medical relationship with other specialists, or with labs/x-ray facilities/outpatient surgery units etc, for that matter. News of this case has hardly had a wide audience, and I suspect many who currently practice in this manner have yet to hear about it. They would do well to heed the warning given by the attorney involved:
William F. Gately, attorney for the Bargars, said that the verdict was "thoroughly and entirely appropriate. For any physicians to do to a patient what this jury found that these two physicians did to Harry Bargar is obscene."I'm sure he's available to sue those who refuse to let their patients choose their own specialists -- and that will give you a headache that is worse than anything a Diff. Equations professor could ever dream up. And, no, wearing the dunce cap will not suffice as punishment (although it might be a a worthwhile addition!).