Double-Booked: When Surgeons Operate On Two Patients At Once

Kaiser Health News, July 12, 2017

In return for an end to simultaneous surgeries, hospital executives agreed that orthopedic surgeons would not be “disadvantaged,” said Richard Shannon, executive vice president for health affairs at U.Va. Part of the process involved overhauling the way surgeries were scheduled.

“It was an important wake-up call,” Shannon said of the controversy. “We wanted to redesign our system to eliminate the risk” as part of a larger patient-safety push.

Eliminating most concurrent procedures, Shannon said, actually resulted in an increase of 560 surgeries in 2016 over 2015, using the same number of operating rooms. “Concurrency was masking an efficiency problem,” said Shannon, who plans to publish the results of U.Va.’s efforts. “There was a lot of waste.”

“This debunks the urban legend” that overlapping surgery is more efficient, he said. “Like many things in health care, if you apply a rigorous disciplined approach, you may get an answer you didn’t expect.”

Rickert and others advise patients who want to avoid overlap to ask detailed questions well in advance and to put their request in writing and on the consent form.

“If you say, ‘I want only you to do the surgery,’ doctors will typically do it,’” Rickert said. “They want the business.”

He also recommends asking, “Are you going to be in the room the entire time during my surgery?” and then repeating that statement in front of the OR nurses the day of surgery. “If the doctor’s not willing to say yes, vote with your feet.”

If a surgeon says he or she will be “present” or “immediately available,” a patient should ask what that means. It may mean that the surgeon is somewhere on a sprawling hospital campus but not in — or even near — your operating room.

Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
Twitter icon