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Rush U. center, doctors named in lawsuit

CHICAGO, July 8 (UPI) -- Doctors at a Chicago teaching hospital's orthopedic unit routinely had residents perform surgeries, violating U.S. Medicare billing rules, a lawsuit alleges.

In one instance, a Rush University Medical Center surgeon never entered the operating room to supervise a procedure, the lawsuit alleges.

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In other instances, a surgeon allegedly monitored resident operations from another room on a TV monitor while performing his own operations at the same time, the lawsuit says.

Residents are post-graduate doctors working under the supervision of fully licensed physicians at a hospital to receive specialized clinical training.

The whistle-blower lawsuit, filed by Rush surgeon Robert Goldberg and a former hospital executive, depicts the Rush orthopedic center as focused on quantity over quality and risking patient health in pursuit of "monetary rewards and celebrity status," the Chicago Tribune reported.

The six doctors named in the lawsuit sidestepped specific Medicare billing rules, largely in 2004 and 2005, requiring teaching physicians to be present during critical portions of procedures, the lawsuit alleges.

The 676-bed academic medical center "believes that the lawsuit has no merit and intends to vigorously defend the case," Rush said in a statement.

A lawyer representing one of the practices whose doctors are named in the lawsuit said, "We would deny that there were any overlapping surgeries that violated applicable rules and regulations, or threatened the health or safety of any patient."

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Whistle-blower lawsuits relate to claims in which the government alleged to be victimized and plaintiffs stand to share in a portion of any monetary awards.

In this case, some of the plaintiffs' accusations, associated with trading office space for patient referrals, were settled by the U.S. Justice Department, with Rush agreeing to pay more than $1.5 million but not admit wrongdoing, the Tribune said.

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