Drive-By Doctoring Behind Unexpected Medical Bills

The NY Times published an above-the-fold, front page article on a disturbing trend in US healthcare. That trend concerns what experts call “drive-by doctoring”, medical care from doctors who had never met the patient or been involved in the patient’s care prior to a surgical procedure. “In operating rooms and on hospital wards across the country, physicians and other health providers typically help one another in patient care. But in an increasingly common practice that some medical experts call drive-by doctoring, assistants, consultants and other hospital employees are charging patients or their insurers hefty fees. They may be called in when the need for them is questionable. And patients usually do not realize they have been involved or are charging until the bill arrives.”

The NY Times’ article examines one case in particular-Peter Drier’s surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. The article notes that Drier had done his homework, signing all the consent forms and making sure he understood the charges associated with the surgery. However, once he was discharged he received a $117,000 bill from a doctor he’d never met. Supposedly, the doctor who billed Drier assisted in the surgery but was an out-of-network provider. Drier’s case is not an isolated incident as the the NY Times reports. “The phenomenon can take many forms. In some instances, a patient may be lying on a gurney in the emergency room or in a hospital bed, unaware that all of the people in white coats or scrubs who turn up at the bedside will charge for their services. At times, a fully trained physician is called in when a resident or a nurse, who would not charge, would have sufficed. Services that were once included in the daily hospital rate are now often provided by contractors, and even many emergency rooms are staffed by out-of-network physicians who bill separately.” In most instances, the patient is unaware of this practice and helpless to stop it.