By: Stewart G. Eidelson, MD

My thoughts, as a long time pilot, and how upon review of the Kobe Bryant tragedy, it appears to have been an unnecessary and preventable plane crash may be instructive to patients selecting a surgeon.

It is becoming clear in the aftermath, that Kobe was unaware of the lack of safeguards to protect him and his fellow passengers on the decision to fly that day. That's not too dissimilar to patients choosing a surgeon for a spinal procedure.

Just being board certified is similar to being a pilot with a license. It's a good start, but it's not the whole story. In my operating room, being a pilot myself, I have instituted safeguards that would prevent similar type of pilot or surgeon related tragedy. Bryant's pilot appears to have made several decisions that unnecessary compromised his passenger’s safety. A simple checklist should have required a very regulated flight into marginal conditions.

In my operating room MRI, Xrays are required, and all team members are aware of specifics of that day’s planned procedures. I instruct all patients that patient safety is paramount and no surgery should be performed or may even terminate intraoperatively if events require termination of a procedure due to unforeseen risk during your surgery.

This requires vast experience and continuous attention to details during  your surgery by your selected surgeon. It appears that the pilot took upon himself to bypass protocols in place and ignored safety precautions necessary to safeguard his passengers. I believe the maturity of a surgeon only comes with vast experience and most patients need to firmly understand the value of experience by their surgeon before undergoing complex spinal surgery. Unfortunately, I see in today's operating rooms constant reminders of this lack of understanding by patients of the value of a surgeon with time earned experience as a key point in selecting a surgeon.

Patients need to fully appreciate that surgeon’s experience only comes over time and it take years to gain this maturity in the surgical decision making process. We need to use this tragedy as a time to reflect on our own decision making process and understand the surgeon’s responsibility to all patients that place trust in them .

My thoughts.
Dr. Eidelson

Dr Eidelson with aircraft