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Senate Report Raises Concerns about Concurrent Surgeries

A new Senate report raises concerns about concurrent surgeries and how they may impact patient safety. It also recommends that hospitals and regulators strengthen their policies surrounding the practice of concurrent and overlapping surgeries.

As we have previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, the term “concurrent surgeries” refers to two surgeries led by the same surgeon at the same time. The practice of concurrent surgeries came under scrutiny in the wake of a Boston Globe Spotlight investigation. The newspaper reported that overlapping or double-booked elective surgeries were frequently performed at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, accounting for 15 percent of all procedures.

The Boston Globe reported that patients were often not informed that their surgeon would be performing concurrent procedures. The investigation also raised patient safety concerns. In one concurrent procedure, attending surgeons were unavailable to help less-experienced residents because they were delayed with another operation. In other cases, patients were under anesthesia for long periods of time while the surgery team waited for the surgeon to arrive from another procedure.

In early 2016, the Senate Finance Committee (Committee), which has jurisdiction over the Medicare and Medicaid programs, sent letters to 20 teaching hospitals inquiring about concurrent and overlapping procedures at their institutions. While the Committee was encouraged that many hospitals have amended their policies in light of the Boston Globe investigation, it called for further measures intended to increase transparency and patient safety.

"While we are encouraged by the steps taken by the American College of Surgeons and a number of hospitals to address the concerns with concurrent surgeries, we remain concerned that the nearly 5,000 hospitals in America may lack thorough and complete policies covering these procedures and patient consent. By working with hospitals and surgeons in a collaborative manner, it is our hope we can continue to increase transparency and patient safety," Sens. Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden wrote in a joint statement.

With regard to patient safety, the Senate report makes the following recommendations:

  • Develop a concurrent and overlapping surgical policy that clearly prohibits the former and regulates the practice of the latter consistent with the ACS guidelines.
  • Formally identify the critical portions of particular procedures, to the extent practicable, as well as those portions unsuitable for overlap.
  • Develop processes to ensure that patient consent discussions result in a complete understanding by the patient that her/his surgery will overlap with another patient’s; develop materials such as frequently asked questions; and educate their patients ahead of their surgeries, giving them enough time to review materials and fully consider their options.
  • Prospectively identify the backup surgeon when overlapping surgeries are scheduled.
  • Develop mechanisms to enforce the established concurrent and overlapping surgical policies and monitor and enforce their outcomes.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a surgical error or other serious medical mistake, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.