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A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: The American Association of Neurological Surgeons’ Professional Conduct Program


by David J. Wildberger


David J. Wildberger is a partner in the firm of Iliff & Meredith, P.C. He represents individuals and families in medical negligence actions, and is an active member of the MTLA.


As the debate over medical negligence


Today, while still asserting dedication to the goal of furthering patient care, the AANS has become much more. From 1931 until 2003, the AANS was an en- tity whose primary purpose was education and research in the furtherance of neuro- surgical care. As such, the AANS was a tax exempt organization with limited, overt political activity.


In recognition of 1 http://www.aans.org/about/.


and tort reform has heated up over the last decade or so, a number of physicians’ professional organizations have launched programs aimed at policing the expert witness activities of their members in medical negligence actions. The organi- zations undertaking such programs claim that they are merely attempting to ensure fair, balanced and impartial expert testi- mony in support of all litigants. Plaintiffs in medical negligence actions, their coun- sel and physicians subject to those policing efforts, contend that the programs are, in reality, aimed to discourage physicians from testifying against their brethren. The American Association of Neuro- logical Surgeons (AANS) has been at the forefront of efforts to police expert testi- mony of its members. The AANS, which purports to be the pre eminent neurosur- gical professional organization, was founded as the Harvey Cushing Society in 1931 as an organization dedicated to advancing the specialty of neurological surgery in order to provide the highest quality of neurosurgical care to the pub- lic.1


the “increasing number of political and legislative issues affecting the AANS’’membership,” the organization created a mirror image of itself for the purpose of “coordinating political activi- ties and sponsoring major income generating programs.” In order to capi- talize on the name recognition of AANS, and underscore the fact that the two enti- ties are essentially one, the new entity was named the “American Association of Neurosurgeons” or “AANS.”2 As of May, 2006, the AANS had nearly 6,900 member neurosurgeons worldwide, including more than 2,800 “active” mem- bers who are board certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, the Royal College of Physicians and Sur- geons of Canada, or the Mexican Council of Neurological Surgery, A.C.3


On its


website, the AANS boasts the following benefits of membership:


Membership in the American Asso- ciation of Neurological Surgeons is now more important than ever. Your dues support vital AANS activities, return- ing your investment through benefits that assist you in managing your prac- tice, supporting your continuing medical education, improving your practice environment through advocacy and legislative efforts, and educating your patients.


2


Forward: Bylaws of the American Associa- tion of Neurological Surgeons.


3 http://www.aans.org/membership/.


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301-524-0806 16 301-524-3005 Trial Reporter AANS is all about YOU: We can be


your primary neurosurgical society membership organization. As Board certified and Board


eligible


neurosurgeons, residents, fellows, inter- national neurosurgeons, neurosurgical nurses, physician assistants, allied phy- sicians and health professionals you will each find AANS working to help you grow as professionals.4


Absent, of course, from this list of ben- efits is any specific mention of the goal of furthering patient care.


This apparent


change in focus has lead critics of the AANS to allege that it has become more of a com- mercial trade guild than an organization dedicated to the pursuit of advances in neu- rosurgical care. In fairness, the criticism of the AANS generally comes from neurosurgeons that have been sanctioned by the organization’s Professional Conduct Committee for alleged “unprofessional con- duct” in the course of providing expert testimony for plaintiffs in medical negli- gence cases. The AANS touts the efforts of the Professional Conduct Committee as ensuring that “when [expert] testimony is needed, it be truly expert, impartial, and available to all litigants.” Those who have been subject to sanction by the AANS’ Pro- fessional Conduct Committee view the committee’s efforts differently. The AANS Professional Conduct Committee was created in 1983 to imple- ment the AANS Professional Conduct Program. That same year, procedural guidelines were adopted to establish the process through which complaint evalua- tion would be performed by the committee. 5


The avowed purpose of the (Continued on page 18)


4 Id. 5


http://www.aans.org/L ibr ar y/ Article.aspx?ArticleId=21843 American Asso- ciation of Neurological Surgeons: Bulletin: Spring, 2004 (Volume 13, Issue 1): Blackett, W. Ben, M.D., J.D.: Medicolegal Update: AANS Testimony Rules Rewritten: New Rules for Neurosurgical Medical/Legal Ex- pert Opinion Services.


Spring 2006


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