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U.S. senators argue for banning simultaneous surgeries

Sometimes good investigative reporting can bring a widespread problem to light and catch the attention of lawmakers who have the power to do something about it.

The Boston Globe Spotlight team (made famous by last year's Best Picture Oscar-winning film Spotlight) did an expose last year on the number of simultaneous surgeries occurring at Massachusetts General and other hospitals. In fact, more than half the hospitals contacted for the report admitted to having surgeons working in or even in charge of two or more operating rooms simultaneously.

The surgeons involved in these overlapping procedures may have been overseeing the end of one surgery and the beginning of another one, and other surgeons may have been involved. Nonetheless, their full time and attention were not devoted to one patient.

That Boston Globe report has prompted U.S. senators to call for an end to this practice after the Senate Finance Committee did its own survey of surgeons in 20 teaching hospitals. They found that anywhere from a third to close to half of surgeries involved surgeons who were working on more than one patient.

The American College of Surgeons agrees that a "primary attending surgeon's involvement in concurrent or simultaneous surgeries...is inappropriate." However, its guidelines permit overlap if the "critical components" of the first surgery are complete before a surgeon begins another one or if another surgeon takes over the surgery.

Often this is done without the patient's knowledge. A former Chicago White Sox pitcher says his career was ended in 2011 by a botched operation on his back that involved a surgeon working in two operating rooms simultaneously. He said he "had no idea" that his surgeon was scheduled for two surgeries simultaneously.

Hospitals have argued that some overlap in surgeries not only lets them handle more surgical patients but also gives residents and less experienced surgeons important hands-on training. However, things can go wrong at any point in a surgical procedure and a surgeon may have only seconds to respond before a situation gets out of control.

When patients suffer harm or worse during surgery, one of the things that experienced Mississippi medical malpractice attorneys will investigate is what personnel were in the room. If the surgeon in charge wasn't there, that could be a significant factor in the outcome of the malpractice case.

Source: CBS News, "Lawmakers push to stop simultaneous surgeries," Dec. 08, 2016

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