A stitch in time costs doctor dearly

Recently at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dr. Joseph Upton was performing a 12-hour surgery reconstructing a patient’s hand. During a “clinically required break,” though, he apparently got a bit twitchy and went for a walk. He ended up at another nearby hospital, where he helped reattach a boy’s partially-severed finger (from a skiing accident), then ambled back to his own patient and concluded that surgery successfully.

Now, this kind of dedication would normally be laudable. But Dr. Upton was required to either be available to his patient or arrange for another doctor to cover for him — neither of which he did during his little jaunt to Children’s Hospital. Had an emergency arose with his first patient during his absence, the rest of his surgical team would have had to either find another doctor on the spot, or handle it themselves.

Dr. Upton has been suspended from his practice for two weeks, and a state investigation is pending.

Dr. Upton is 62, and has been on Beth Israel’s staff since 1989 and Children’s Hospital since 1977.

From all accounts, Dr. Upton is a fine doctor and well-regarded. But this looks like a case of his own self-confidence developed into overconfidence and arrogance, and that overwhelmed his own common sense.

I predict a hefty fine in Dr. Upton’s future. And with luck, it’ll be a wake-up call to him and any other doctors who might make such errors in judgment in the future.


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