Few things are more impressive than watching a surgeon run between multiple surgical arenas and save many lives at once on television medical dramas. Surprisingly, this practice is not necessarily fiction. Known as concurrent or double-booked surgeries, the practice probably threatens successful surgical outcomes more easily than it saves lives.
In March 2016, the Boston Globe reported that Senator Orrin Hatch initiated an investigation into this practice, specifically related to one hospital, but then extending to other hospitals. Concurrent surgeries are a relatively common practice across the U.S., particularly in the area of orthopedics. In some cases it is permitted to a limited degree, but surgical patients need to be aware of it and know how to help protect themselves.
It is not uncommon for surgeons to move from one surgical procedure to the next, leaving the final steps to other members of the surgical team. In fact, even Medicare views the practice as acceptable, as long as surgeons are present for critical or key portions of the surgery. Unfortunately, the investigation uncovered unacceptable practices, such as the following:
It does not require surgical knowledge to recognize that these are serious situations that can — and do — result in surgical error. One of the goals of the investigation is to establish guidelines that reduce the risks of concurrent surgery. Unfortunately, it is still too early to know how this issue will be handled.
Any doctor-patient relationship requires a significant level of trust. However, patients who plan to undergo surgery under general anesthesia require an exceptional level of confidence that the surgical team will perform in accordance with strict standards.
Surgical patients typically have little control over the surgical process, but they should certainly ask surgeons about scheduling practices — as well as ensure that they know precisely who will perform their procedures. It also makes sense to do some research that might reveal issues or lawsuits levied against specific surgeons, hospitals or surgical centers.
In the end, understand that surgical outcomes seldom come with guarantees. Even the most skilled surgeon cannot absolutely predict concerns that might arise during a procedure. Still, when injuries occur, patients and their families should expect to hear a reasonable explanation.
If there is any concern that medical negligence may have led to injuries, seek advice from Tuscaloosa personal injury lawyers who have the skills and resources needed for medical malpractice claims.
Statement on Principles, (Responsibility of Primary Surgeons) American College of Surgeons, April 12, 2016