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Las Vegas patient's patience runs out - Man sues doctor for three-hour wait

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http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2003/Jul-29-Tue-2003/news/21827918.html

Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Las Vegas patient's patience runs out

Man sues doctor for three-hour wait

By JOELLE BABULA
REVIEW-JOURNAL



Aristotelis Belavilas stands outside his business Monday afternoon. The 58-year-old sued his doctor after he spent nearly four hours in the waiting room.
Photo by Craig L. Moran.
 

Las Vegan Aristotelis Belavilas got so fed up waiting three hours to see his doctor for his back pain that he stormed out of the office without getting treatment.

Then the 58-year-old sued. He asked for $5,000. It wasn't about the money, he said, but to "teach the doctor a lesson" about treating patients with respect and compassion.

Last week, he was awarded $250 in small claims court.

Local physicians say they fear the ruling will set a dangerous precedent.

"This really makes my hair stand up," said Ed Kingsley, president of the Clark County Medical Society. "We're already so worried about liability, and to know that we now can get sued for keeping our patients waiting too long in the waiting room is upsetting and it's discouraging."

Belavilas said his doctor "didn't say he was sorry and that he was with another patient or that he had gotten a flat tire, nothing. I decided to sue him because my time is worth something just like his is."

The physician, pain management specialist Ty Weller, said he's rarely more than a half hour late and that Belavilas' long wait was an exception. He said he tried to book Belavilas for a day when he wasn't so busy, but that Belavilas insisted on having the procedure the day before he went on vacation to Greece.

Belavilas in February was scheduled to have a steroid injection in his spine to combat back pain. The injection was scheduled for 2 p.m. but Weller didn't show up until 5:15.

"I overbooked myself to accommodate him and then another patient took longer than expected and then all day long I was trying to catch up," Weller said. "I can't hurry a patient along who needs my attention just to be on time."

Weller said he was backed up on that particular day because he was forced to travel to four different surgery centers to see patients. He treats patients at different centers depending on the patient's insurance. He also said that his staff kept Belavilas apprised of where he was and that he was going to be late.

"When I arrived he was very angry and wanted to leave," Weller said. "I told him if he wants to go, he can and he was very insulted by that. He was very upset that I didn't apologize."

Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, said it's important for doctors to explain to their patients why they are kept waiting. He said the lawsuit is a warning to doctors that patients are getting frustrated with long waits.

"Often doctors get in a hurry and, rather than explain to a patient why they are late, they just go right to the treatment," Matheis said. "When you don't explain, resentment builds."

Doctors say they expect patient wait times to continue to grow and are a symptom of an ailing health care system.

"Our malpractice rates are going up, our rent is going up, our office overhead is going up but our reimbursements are going down," said Rudy Manthei, chairman of the group Keep Our Doctors in Nevada. "The only way to make it is to overbook patients and see as many as we can."

Members of the group Keep Our Doctors in Nevada are proponents of state tort reform and caps on medical malpractice awards.

Weller plans to appeal the decision, made by attorney Thomas Kurtz, in small claims court. He's been ordered to pay a total of $365 to cover Belavilas' judgment and court fees.

"Even more important than the money is that now I have to worry about other patients doing this to me," Weller said. "I'm just appalled by this."

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