Surgical operations involve money and for 37-years old Peter Drier, a bank technology manager from New York City, undergoing a neck operation for herniated disks involved taking into consideration his insurance coverage and preparing for the medical bills.
Drier wasn't surprised by some of the charges he received for his three-hour operation in December. After all, the hospital and medical practitioners do charge for their services. His medical bills included $56,000 from Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital, $4,300 from the anesthesiologist and $133,000 from his orthopedist. One bill got him puzzled though, which amounted to about $117,000 as this came from a certain Dr. Harrison Mu, a neurosurgeon that Drier do not know and has not even heard of.
It appears that Drier experienced an emerging practice called "drive-by doctoring," which allows medical practitioners to charge patients and insurers large fees for services, whose need is sometimes questionable. In Drier's case, for instance, Mu had indeed helped with the surgery albeit in a non-essential position.
Mu's role in the surgery could have been done by a resident or a qualified assistant employed by the hospital but Mu, an "out-of-network" physician, had been called in instead. Based on the operative record for Drier's operation, no qualified resident was available at the time.
Mu is connected with Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens as its chief of neurosurgery and as an "out-of-network" physician during Drier's operation, he can bill up to 40 times the usual rate as an assistant to the surgery.
Like Mu, a growing number of doctors engage in doing assistant roles in other hospitals as this allows them to earn big money for minimal amount of work. Unfortunately for Drier and other patients who experienced the same ordeal he had, they were not even conscious during their surgery to even complain against the presence of these doctors.
Records reveal that most of the operations Mu performs in Jamaica involve emergency surgery on Medicaid patients, a difficult but is unlikely a lucrative practice. Abeel Mangi, a professor of cardiac surgery at Yale, said that the drive-by doctoring practice has become prevalent.
''The idea of having an assistant in the O.R. has become an opportunity to make up for surgical fees that have been slashed,'' Mangi said. ''There's now a whole cadre of people out there who do not have meaningful appointments as attending surgeons, so they do assistant work.''