Podiatric surgeries are usually elective, meaning they are not life threatening, and do not need to be performed right away. A patient should be given all of their options, including alternatives to surgery, in order to make the best decision for their specific medical concerns. When a podiatrist, which is a doctor that specializes in the treatments of disorders of the foot, ankle and related structures of the leg, fails to adhere to the medically accepted standard of care, podiatric malpractice can occur.
Types of Surgeries Where Malpractice May Occur
Bunion Surgery - This procedure usually involves cutting and repositioning of bones, with a screw or pin to keep the bones aligned. A physician failing to correctly cut and reposition can result in an elevated toe that does not touch the ground, no motion in the toe, new pain, a big toe drifting away from the rest of the foot called a "hallux varus", or a failure to remove the bunion. However, some podiatrists may still use an old procedure where the bunion is shaved off, but this does not correct the underlying problem(s) that caused the bunion in the first place.
Hammertoe Surgery (arthroplasty) - This procedure usually involved cuts to the small bones in the toe, the joint being either fully or partially cut out, and the placement of a pin through the toe to hold the bones in the toe in place during healing. The pin will be coming out of the end of the toe after surgery. However, depending on the degree and type of hammertoe you have, more simple surgery may be an alternative, such as the cutting of a tendon, without the need for cutting of the bones and pin placement.
Heel Spur Surgery - This procedure usually involves partial cutting through the plantar fascia, which leaves the ends of the plantar fascia in place, allowing the space between to heal with scar tissue. This causes the plantar fascia to become longer. However, non-surgical treatments should be explored before surgery is indicated. Non-surgical treatment can possibly alleviate the symptoms of heel spur pain and, if successful, may be able to eliminate the need for surgery.
Lack of Informed Consent
When you are indicated for surgery, New York State law dictates that physicians, including podiatrists, must provide their patients with the risks and benefits of surgery, as well as alternatives to surgery. This includes not having surgery. Most physicians will provide you with a consent form to sign prior to surgery, but some physicians, and even the consent form, don't actually explain the surgery to you. It is not settled law in New York as to whether a signed consent form with no explanation by the physician, is enough, but, your doctor should go through your medical records with you so you understand the procedure prior to signing the consent form. Even when you get the form, your doctor should give you time to read it and if you have any questions, answer them for you.
Without informed consent, the patient may sue the doctor, even if the surgery was performed properly. This is called the theory of "lack of informed consent". This cause of action exists because patients should always be able to weight the risks of surgery with the benefits, and be able to make a decision whether to have surgery or not, based upon a fully informed decision.