Ghost Surgery: Does South Korea Have a Better Idea?

Ghost Surgery: Does South Korea Have a Better Idea?

Ghost Surgery: Does South Korea Have a Better Idea? 150 150 Dan Frith

Many people have never heard of “ghost surgery.”  What is it?

Ghost surgery occurs when a surgeon performs surgery on another surgeon’s patient, and the surgeons are aware of the arrangement but the patient is not. There are legitimate reasons for surgeons to switch places. For instance, one surgeon may have a sudden emergency, or a resident may perform or assist with surgery under the close supervision of an experienced physician. Typically, patients are alerted to these possibilities beforehand and asked for their consent. When consent is not sought, the process is questionable.

We are currently handling a surgical malpractice case in which we believe a resident (doctor in training) performed a substantial part of the surgery and seriously injured the patient.  All done without the patient’s knowledge and consent.  The primary surgeon was in the Operating Room but what role each played in the surgery is unclear from the patient’s records.  I am all for training new surgeons but I want to know if one is cutting on me before he or she does it.  Here is where South Korea comes into the discussion.

South Korea has a reputation for world-class medical care. However, faith in hospitals has eroded due to multiple surgical deaths involving ghost surgeries.  Lawmakers took action and passed a law requiring cameras in all Operating Rooms that handle patients under general anesthesia. Read about South Korea’s solution to the problem here.

Not one of the 50 states in America requires cameras in the Operating Rooms.  I believe that not only would the presence of cameras in the Operating Room stop non-consensual ghost surgeries, it would also go a long way to deter medical malpractice. In the hundreds of surgical malpractice cases we have handled over many years, the Operative Report prepared by the surgeon rarely tells the whole story and you can bet the surgeon himself/herself will only recall that everything went as planned and the surgical complication was not the result of any medical negligence. To no one’s surprise, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) complain that the use of cameras in the Operating Room will undermine trust in doctors and hurt morale.  They may be right…and the cameras might save hundreds of lives every year.  Which outcome is more important?

About the author

Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at

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