A surgeon at the National Medical Center has allowed a medical device company’s head and the company’s worker assist surgeries for several years, a lawmaker’s report revealed.
Korea Biomedical Review exclusively reported on Oct. 2 that the state-run hospital ordered a medical device salesman, who had no medical license, to assist a spinal surgery and even suture.
The fresh revelation is likely to put the NMC’s internal audit under scrutiny, as the surgeon identified only by his surname Jeong denied any wrongdoings in his past surgeries regarding surgery assistance and suture.
|The undated photo sent by the informant shows the salesman with a pink scrub cap allegedly assisting the surgeon Jeong (center) to perform a spinal surgery at the National Medical Center.|
According to the report obtained by Korea Biomedical Review from Rep. Yoon Il-kyu of the ruling Democratic Party, surgeon Jeong at NMC ordered the head of the medical device company and the company’s employee to help him operate in 42 cases from 2016 to 2018.
The whistleblower who initially informed the abnormality, three other NMC employees and one outside source at a medical device firm affirmed the statement in a chorus.
According to the informants, surgeon Jeong and CEO of the company divided surgical parts and operated their own when performing vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are similar medical spinal procedures in which bone cement is injected into a fractured vertebra to relieve back pain caused by vertebral compression fractures.
The employee at the company performed sutures several times and hammering at vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty procedures.
The employee even used “Bovie,” an instrument for electrosurgical dissection, for a posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF) procedure.
“During vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty procedures, the surgeon Jeong did one part and the company head, the other. When the CEO was in the operation room, the employee came along and mixed cement,” the informer said. “After that, the surgeon and the company head divided the wrapping procedures too. Jeong did both parts sometimes, but he often divided surgical parts into left and right for the two (vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty) procedures and worked with the company head.”
The NMC’s surgeon trusted the company head “too much,” the informant said. “I wondered if it was okay for a physician to let a company’s head to carry out an operation. At major procedures, the surgeon asked the company head’s advice who intervened a lot and performed procedures directly many times,” the source said.
What’s more surprising was that the medical device firm has never lent or sold its products to the NMC between 2016 and 2018.
After KBR’s initial news report, the NMC had said the hospital let the surgeon receive help because surgeons were not familiar with the use of medical devices. However, the NMC’s explanation is now questionable as the company employee went in and out of the operation room regardless of the sales of the medical devices.
On the NMC’s record of visits at operation rooms, the company’s employee visited the OR 17 times. The visit by the company head on May 30, 2016, was “to perform a procedure,” according to the record.
The employee had 21 accesses to the NMC’s parking lot on the dates suspected to be the ones that the employee aided surgeries. The average parking time was 4 hours and 41 minutes.
Lawmaker Yoon’s report also showed that a physician at an NMC’s sister hospital performed a cerebral angiography, in place of Jeong, without notifying the patient. The ghost surgery was in breach of the Medical Service Act, which stipulates a physician’s mandatory explanation before an operation.
“Even when the situation was so bad, the NMC’s internal audit concluded that the surgery assistance was not true and closed the case on Sept. 21,” Yoon said. “During the audit, the NMC only tried to hunt down the whistleblower, and there were so many rumors that the hospital was trying to play down and cover up illegal practices.”
He went on to say that he felt terrible about the alleged ghost surgeries at the NMC, especially because he was a neurosurgeon for more than 30 years before joining the National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee.
“The NMC’s internal audit results are not reliable anymore. The health and welfare ministry should carry out thorough investigations and disclose the results to the public in detail,” Yoon added.
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