Anesthesiologist and pain management specialist Dr. Christian Schlicht is not a surgeon, but he played one at a New Mexico hospital. Now that hospital has to pay $33 million in a medical malpractice settlement of over 80 claims.
According to various online sources – and court records – Schlicht injected bone cement, which is only used to treat spinal fractures, into an area of the spine where a patient needed a replacement for his or her intervertebral disk. MedicineNet says an intervertebral disk acts as a shock absorber between the vertebrae, allowing a person to move without his or her vertebrae damaging one another.
Patients who filed the malpractice suits claim that the bone cement either did not stay between the vertebrae, where it could harden and create a cushion, or it splintered when it hardened, causing incapacitating pain and injury. Some patients reported partial-paralysis, while others have lost the ability to control bladder and bowel functions, according to court records.
Schlicht reportedly claimed that his procedures, unlike conventional spine fusion, required less invasive techniques; however, he once performed surgery from the front of the patient’s neck, shifting the esophagus and trachea out of the way to administer the cement graft.
In September 2007, Molina Healthcare accused Schlicht of performing dangerous surgeries for which he had neither the training nor the credentials. In response to these claims, writes Colleen Heild for the Albuquerque Journal, hospital administrators warned that they would seek “aggressive legal and regulatory action” against Molina, adding that, “Molina appears to have consistently violated Dr. Schlicht’s rights and now has openly damaged the hospital.”
This was not the first time the hospital defended Schlicht. According to Dr. Frank Bryant, colleague and co-surgeon on a number of surgeries, a nurse complained of Schlicht’s procedures to the medical staff officer responsible for confirming a doctor’s credentials. The medical staff officer reportedly told her to “leave things the way they are.”
“He … confided in me that some of his neurosurgery training was falsified,” Bryant said in a deposition. “I wanted to just die right there in the room. I didn’t know what to do.”
To make sure your doctor is on the up-and-up, please visit this Consumer Reports page, where you can research his or her education, licensing, specialties and disciplinary actions.