The American College of Surgeons will consider new guidelines for the practice of concurrent or “double-booked” surgeries after a Boston Globe Spotlight Team report this fall.
The Spotlight Team found many surgeons in Boston and across the country are performing in two operations that overlap in part or their entirety, without the patient’s knowledge or consent. In some cases, doctors have even traveled back and forth to surgeries at different hospitals, leaving patients to wait under anesthesia.
“Patient safety is paramount,” said attorney Marc Breakstone, who has represented clients injured by medical malpractice for 30 years. “It is fundamental that patients have a right to be informed who is performing their surgery. If surgeons are overlapping their schedules, patients must be informed, without exception.”
The Boston Globe Spotlight Team surveyed 47 hospitals nationwide, reporting that 15 percent of surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital are concurrent (of 37,000 surgeries per year). Of these, 1,000 surgeries involve at least one patient with an open incision. At UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, 5 to 10 percent of surgeries are concurrent. The report also included double-booked procedures at other hospitals.
Patients and family members told the Spotlight Team they had no warning that their surgeon may leave during the procedure.
Among them was former Red Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks, who had spinal decompression surgery at MGH in December 2011. Jenks was critical of his care, and in February 2012, told the media his MGH surgical team made an error. As a result, he said he had to undergo another surgery 18 days later in Arizona.
When interviewed this year, Jenks said he had recently learned his surgeon was double-booked during his entire three-hour procedure. In response, MGH told the Spotlight Team the surgeon had been in the operating room during the entire operation and performed properly.
Other Boston Cases
The Spotlight Team reported on cases of concurrent surgeries at hospitals across the country. Two local cases involved Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
In 2005, a hand surgeon left Beth Israel during a break from an operation and went to Children’s Hospital, where he was on staff. His lawyer said the doctor experienced difficulties with a medical device involved in his procedure and went to Children’s Hospital to obtain a replacement. While there, he removed a cast for a young patient who wanted to take a trip with his family, the lawyer said.
The Brigham and Women’s Hospital case involves a thoracic surgeon who allowed other surgeons to perform a lung surgery, which led to the patient suffering complications. During testimony, the doctor acknowledged that the surgery overlapped with that of another patient. Though the jury sided with the doctor, the federal appeals court ordered a new trial, saying the judge erred by excluding testimony from expert witnesses.
From Our Experience
The Spotlight report reminds us of surgery that was performed on one of our clients at the Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge in 2002. The surgeon, Dr. David Arndt, left the operating room during complex back surgery. His mission was solely a private one–he needed to cash a check. As a result, he immediately lost his medical privileges and his medical license was revoked. For more details about the $1.25 million recovery we obtained for our client, click here.
Read the Boston Globe Spotlight Team coverage.