Registry of doctors is critical for valley


There has to be a better way, particularly in this powerful digital information age.

To often have to rely on luck and the power of prayer to try to find doctors in Las Vegas with the experience you need for a complex medical problem seems, well, more than a tad sad.

It also seems dumb, and, as you’ll see in the main story on this page that features patients Shirley Andrews and Dennis Glans, it can put your life at risk.

When there is no central registry for which doctors deal with this or that problem, it is no wonder many Southern Nevadans quickly decide it’s best to find a physician by traveling to an academic medical center in another state where care has received praise from the likes of U.S. News &World Report. While that’s far from background on an individual doctor’s medical expertise, that information — positive guilt by association — is a lot better than practically no information at all.

When all is said and done, those most responsible for their backgrounds being communicated in a way that smacks of the 1950s, essentially only word of mouth in a metropolitan area where many of the 2 million people are basically new arrivals, are the same individuals who most get irked that the sick and wounded leave town for medical care — they are the physicians who practice in the Las Vegas Valley, men and women who frequently tell me, “We have fine specialists here.”

Through my work, I’ve come to appreciate that there are not only competent, but brilliant caring specialists who are saving lives and improving quality of life every day in Las Vegas. I’ve shared many of their successes with you on this page. I’ve had, of course, the opportunity to develop contacts who help me find practitioners who are doing cutting-edge work locally.

John Q. Public doesn’t have that advantage.

Dr. Michael Edwards, new president of the Clark County Medical Society, knows it’s time, well past time, actually, for doctors to provide more information to consumers. He wants his legacy in office to be that of the man who found the most objective way to communicate the strengths of local medical practitioners to the community at large.

“It will be called something like a free Las Vegas Valley Medical Resource Website,” he said, stressing that even doctors in town often don’t know which specialists are available in Southern Nevada for them to refer patients to.

Suzie Avecilla, a Las Vegas businesswoman who grew increasingly frustrated over a period of more than a year in trying to find medical help for her mother-in-law, Shirley Andrews, knows that’s true.

“We would take her to St. Rose (Dominican Hospital, Siena campus) for help, and doctors there said nothing could be done,” she said. “And yet the office of the specialist of the man who finally helped us (neurosurgeon Dr. Bohdan Chopko) was right behind the hospital. If he hadn’t been on call one day at St. Rose, San Martin, after we took Shirley there, we probably would have never found him. It was just luck.”

Though employed by the prestigious Stanford Hospital &Clinics, Chopko is based in Henderson as part of an affiliation between Stanford and St. Rose Dominican Hospitals.

Because it took so long for Andrews’ family to find someone to take care of her ear-based sarcoma (tumor), what had been a tumor the size of a pea grew to the size of a grapefruit, spreading cancer to her brain and leaving her with permanent disfigurement as the growth paralyzed her facial nerves.

Avecilla was so frustrated by the experience that she got business cards from Chopko and started handing them out to doctors and patients in the valley. “It’s a crazy way to have to do things, but there may be other people who need help,” she said.

Chopko, who trained at one of the best cancer surgery centers in the country, University of California, San Diego, envisions a patient-friendly website where the search engine would allow individuals to type in their problem — such as ear-based sarcoma, head- and skull-based tumors, microvalve disease or aortic stenosis — and a list of local doctors who deal with such maladies could pop up. It could describe their training and experience and provide contact information.

Doctors entering expertise areas into the search engine, Chopko said, “commits them to embrace that problem. If I say I can do head- and skull-based neurosurgery, I have standards to keep up. You are beholden to be as good as you can be.”

Such information, Edwards acknowledged, would give patients and their families a good starting point in their search for a specialist. He noted that it will still be up to people to interview potential specialists.

Some doctors may exaggerate their prowess in the search engine. Still, once a patient interviews a doctor and perhaps speaks to patients treated by the practitioner, then a truer picture of a physician’s capabilities can evolve.

The status quo, Edwards knows, is not acceptable. It doesn’t make sense, for example, that the only way a former star singer in the Strip production of “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular,” Kristen Hertzenberg, ultimately learned there was a local physician capable of doing thyroid cancer surgery without destroying her voice was because of a Houston relative — she heard a physician speak at a convention and became a conduit to the surgeon.

Edwards, who also serves as president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, knows consumers often don’t trust obvious paid advertising of physicians when making an important decision.

He also knows that the kind of information that the medical society now provides free — a simple “John Jones — general surgeon” kind of listing doesn’t give either potential patients or referring doctors enough helpful information.

“I’m having a task force work on this,” he said, noting that students in the health professions at UNLV could possibly collect data from practitioners for the search engine as part of their graduate studies.

“It’s important for people to have a better idea of the medical talent we actually have in Southern Nevada.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.