Column Date 2007-06-05

Does my operation come with a warranty, doctor?

It might, if you live in Wilkes-Barre.

The Geisinger Health System, in central Pennsylvania, now gives you a three month warranty on heart-bypass surgery.

Or to put it another way: they guarantee their work for 90 days or 9,331,200 heartbeats, whichever comes first.

And while it sounds like an idea that’s wildly out of place in a hospital, it makes sense, in surrealistic sort of way:

Normal bypass operation:

1. Your hospital does heart bypass surgery
2. Something doesn’t work out right
3. You check back into the hospital
4. There are additional procedures and charges
5. The hospital bills you and your
            insurance company...again    

Using this approach, the hospital, perversely, makes more money if they screw up your surgery.

Bypass with a 90-day warranty:

1. Your hospital does heart bypass surgery. There’s a
            flat fee, which includes a 90-day warranty
2. Something doesn’t work out right
3. You check back into the hospital
4. There are additional procedures and charges
5. You don’t pay a penny; neither does
            your insurance company

The theory is that you get better care because the hospital takes pains to do it your by-pass flawlessly the first time – “do-overs” cost them money. And there’s no better incentive than money.

The Geisinger people claim it works – they’ve been guaranteeing heart bypass surgery for well over a year, and their statistics show that fewer of their heart patients have problems.

This is an exciting concept -- and I hope other medical groups start giving warranties as soon as possible.

For instance, if you’re a tennis player, wouldn’t it be comforting to know that your rotator cuff operation is guaranteed for 1 year or 7,500 serves? Or that your hernia is guaranteed for up to six months at the gym – providing you don’t bench press more than 300 pounds?

Dentists might offer a useful “My Filling Fell Out” warranty -- ranging from a basic Amalgam Warranty, all the way up to a Pure Gold Warranty.

Your dermatologist could provide an “Acne Warranty” – if the usual ointments don’t work, he’ll have to give you that really expensive voodoo cream that nobody can afford without a bank loan.

But the most popular warranty of all would come from plastic surgeons.

Let’s say you decide to do some work on your face, and you and your doctor agree on the basic ‘Angelina Jolie’ look. Well, if $35,000 later you wind up looking more like your recently-departed Aunt Gladys, a warranty will pay for the re-nips and re-tucks.

(A breast augmentation warranty, of course, would be a lot simpler. If your goal is 36D and you end up smaller, the warranty kicks in automatically. No questions asked.)

I like this warranty idea – it’s really thinking “outside the box,” and it seems like an effective way to get people to make good on their promises.

Imagine it catching on in Washington: if your congressman doesn’t vote as he promised, he’ll be sent home after 90 days.

And you'll get your campaign contribution back!

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©2007 Peter Tannen