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Adventures in the Law: Zooming While Operating

Norm Tabler


  • A plastic surgeon named Scott Green who faced a speeding charge appeared in a Sacramento courtroom via Zoom while actively performing surgery on a patient.
  • The judge expressed concern about the patient's well-being and rescheduled the trial for a later date.
  • The incident went viral, prompting the California Medical Board to investigate the matter and raise concerns about the practice of conducting Zoom calls while performing surgery.
Adventures in the Law: Zooming While Operating

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Gary Link thought that in his years as Sacramento Traffic Court Judge, he had seen it all: phoning while operating, texting while operating, reading while operating, applying make-up while operating, shaving while operating, fighting while operating. You name it.

But he had to admit that the accused now standing before him, Scott Green, presented a totally new situation. Actually, it wasn’t so much what Scott was accused of doing as what he was doing at that very moment. What he was accused of doing was speeding˗˗perhaps the most common charge in traffic court.

What he was doing as he appeared via zoom in Sacramento Superior Court, was operating. Not operating as in operating a vehicle but operating as in operating on a surgical patient. In other words, Scott was zooming while operating. Or was it operating while zooming?

Scott is a plastic surgeon and apparently a very busy one. When Scott’s case was called, the court clerk could see that Scott was dressed in scrubs, standing in what looked for all the world like an operating room. “Are you ready for trial?” the clerk asked, his voice shaking. “It kind of looks like you’re in an operating room right now?”

“I am, sir!” Scott responded with all the confidence you’d expect of a successful surgeon. “Yes, I’m in an operating room right now. I’m available for trial. Go right ahead,” Scott continued, his head down and eyes on the patient, as he continued with his surgery.

At first speechless, Judge Link eventually found his voice. “So unless I’m mistaken, I’m seeing a defendant that’s in the middle of an operating room appearing to be actively engaged in providing services to a patient. Is that correct, Mr. Green? Or should I say Dr. Green?”

It wasn’t surprising that Judge Link was dubious about this particular form of multitasking. After all, he routinely convicted drivers for merely talking on the phone while driving. “I do not feel comfortable for the welfare of a patient if you’re in the process of operating so that I would put on a trial, notwithstanding the fact that the officer is here today,” he stated.

What’s the big deal? Scott wondered aloud. “I have another surgeon right here who’s doing the surgery with me, so I can stand here and allow them to do the surgery also,” Scott reassured the judge, nodding toward a fellow surgeon standing at his side (riding shotgun, in traffic court parlance).

Judge Link proved to be less sanguine than Scott about Scott’s multitasking capabilities. “I don’t think that’s appropriate,” the judge declared. “I’m going to come up with a different date˗˗when you’re not actively involved or participating and attending to the needs of a patient. Let me see if I can get a different date here…I’m concerned about the welfare of the patient based on what I’m seeing.”

Scott’s explanation for the unusual situation? “This was our last case, we were half-way through it, through all the critical parts. The critical parts of that kind of case, which is a facelift, those parts actually go very quick in the beginning.” (He was providing a lift, in traffic court parlance.)

Nevertheless, Scott acknowledged that he could have handled the situation differently, stepping out of the operating room to take the zoom call, letting his colleague finish the procedure (take the wheel, in traffic court parlance).

When a video of Scott’s appearance before Judge Link went viral, the California Medical Board promised to look into the matter. Like Judge Green, the Board is concerned with the practice of zooming while operating.