Medical Clearance Does Not Clear the Patient or Physician of Risks
“Medical clearance” is when a surgeon requests clearance from an assessing physician before performing surgery on a patient. Cardiac risk is the number one reason to request medical clearance, but other risks that call for medical clearance include congestive heart failure, pulmonary embolism, anticoagulation, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Anticoagulants, for example, are often an issue in surgical claims. If the patient is taking anticoagulants, the surgeon and the physician should agree on the best approach for that specific patient. They may discuss changes in medical management that should be made to decrease risk. If they believe the patient is at risk from a respiratory perspective, the focus may be on early mobilization, incentive spirometry, and respiratory treatment.
To avoid malpractice risks, consider the following tips when dealing with medical clearance:
- Determine which patients need medical clearance.
The surgeon should assess the type of surgery and its associated risks and the health of the patient. Healthy patients with no underlying conditions who are undergoing fairly low-risk procedures don’t routinely need medical clearance.
- Provide appropriate information.
Problems can arise when the surgeon does not provide enough information to the assessing physician about the surgery being proposed. The surgeon should provide information to the assessing physician about the type of surgery, how long it will take, what kind of anesthesia is anticipated, how long the patient will be immobile, what is involved in rehabilitation, and what the recovery period looks like. The assessing physician should take that information into consideration, along with exam results and knowledge of the patient, to determine if the patient is at increased risk.
- Develop a plan to mitigate risks.
The surgeon and the assessing physician should work together to determine the steps to take to mitigate risk preoperatively, intraoperatively, and postoperatively. For example, they should agree about which medications to stop preoperatively and which to continue.
There is no standard medical clearance process. Physicians should be aware of when a medical clearance would be indicated and have a good process to ensure it’s done.
Medical clearance is a misnomer because it implies that the patient is cleared and there are no risks. No patient is free of risk when undergoing a procedure. The goals of the assessment are to determine the level of risk and to identify opportunities to mitigate risk—with the surgeon and the assessing physician working in concert. The decision about whether to proceed with the operation belongs to the surgeon and the patient.