POLL: Double-booked surgeries

The controversial practice known as double-booking or concurrent surgery has been going on in many teaching hospitals for years with no question about its safety or ethics.  The people least aware of it are patients actually undergoing surgery.  Over the past two years, overlapping surgery has been a subject of debate in the medical community, and some hospitals have banned the practice.

Dr. Travis Stork of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, says, “This practice isn’t inherently bad or dangerous.  The problem is when you’re the patient and you have no idea whatsoever that during your surgery, your surgeon may be in another room, going back and forth.”

Dr. Andrew Ordon, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, says concurrent surgery is common.  “To book surgeries like this happens all the time,” he says.  “And it is more efficient.  It’s more efficient for everybody: the surgeon, the next patient.  You wait less.”  At least one study disputes the frequent claim of efficiency.  But in any case, Dr. Ordon agrees that the patient must know ahead of time that his surgery is double-booked.

Dr. Ordon says the practice is getting a lot of attention lately because of an unfortunate case.  “There was a spine surgeon running two rooms,” he says.  “And I guess it would appear that the spine surgeon was not there for a key component of the spine surgery in one of the rooms.  That is not good.”  In January, a jury found a Massachusetts General Hospital spinal surgeon was not responsible for quadriplegia suffered by a patient who had not been informed that his surgery was double-booked.

The doctors point out that a lot goes on in the OR besides surgery, from prepping patients beforehand to stitching them up afterwards.  Much of this work is done by anesthesiologists, scrub nurses, interns, and residents, and does not require the presence of the surgeon.

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