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Is it malpractice if a surgeon takes a Zoom call in the OR?

It all began with a court hearing. A judge expected a surgeon to attend, but the physician had a procedure at the time. Instead of rescheduling, he chose to attend the Zoom meeting while in the operating room (OR). The story has caught more than just the media’s attention. The state medical board has stated it is currently investigating the incident. Depending on their findings, the physician could face penalties such as fines, suspension or even the revocation of his medical license.

But is it malpractice?

Medical malpractice generally falls in the legal arena of negligence. The legal system puts the burden of establishing the claim on victim and generally requires the following elements:

  • Standard of care. Patients who are injured and suspect their injury as the result of medical negligence will need to show that the doctor failed to meet the accepted standard of care. This often requires expert testimony. In this specific example, it seems likely most physicians would not find it reasonable to attend a Zoom meeting while in the middle of a procedure.
  • Injury. In order to have a med mal claim, the patient must have suffered some form of injury that would not have occurred but for the physician’s negligent care.
  • Damage. Examples can include constant pain, disability, or suffering.

At this time, it does not appear the patient who was receiving care while the surgeon attended a court hearing via Zoom suffered any injury. Although this specific example may not rise to the level of medical malpractice, it provides an opportunity to discuss the elements noted above and to highlight the need to review injuries suffered while in the OR. A Zoom call or other distraction during the procedure can led to negligent care. If so, the patient can hold the physician financially accountable for their injuries through a legal malpractice claim.