Divided attention: The risky practice of simultaneous surgeries

This article looks at the controversial and widespread—but little known—practice of double-booked surgeries.

Simultaneous surgeries are something that few people have heard about, but they are surprisingly common at teaching hospitals throughout the country. Simultaneous, or double-booked, surgeries are the practice of having a single attending surgeon oversee two or more surgeries at the same time. As CBS News reports, the practice has come under severe criticism lately thanks to a number of high-profile botched surgeries that occurred during double-booked procedures. Double-booked surgeries, critics say, not only put patients at risk, they also deprive them of their ability to provide informed consent.

Botched surgeries

According to U.S. News & World Report, a recent Harvard survey found that only five percent of Americans had actually heard of double-booked surgeries and the vast majority of them were opposed to it. However, the practice is widespread at teaching hospitals, with 33 percent of operations being double-booked at 20 teaching hospitals that were recently surveyed by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. In some cases, individual surgeons told the committee that close to 50 percent of all their surgeries were double-booked.

Hospitals defend double-booking as being safe and giving trainee surgeons an opportunity to gain practical experience. However, during double-booked operations the attending surgeon is not in the operating room during periods of the operation that are deemed "noncritical." However, even during noncritical components of the surgery, things can go wrong, leaving the trainee having to scramble to find the attending surgeon.

One high-profile case has helped shed light on this important topic. In 2011, a former pitcher for the Chicago White Sox had his major league career cut short due to a botched back operation. It was only after the operation that the pitcher learned that his operation had been double-booked, a fact that he says led to the botched surgery.

Informed consent?

The fact that many people who are double booked for surgeries don't find out until after something goes wrong also presents another troubling issue, that of informed consent. Critics of double-booked surgeries say that because patients are often unaware that their operations are being performed simultaneously with another operation that those patients are denied the opportunity to give informed consent to the procedure being performed on them.

Medical malpractice help

Patients have a right to expect that when they are admitted to a hospital they will receive the best care and treatment possible. However, as the above article shows, in some cases patients may receive care that they have neither consented to and which may lead to injury or illness. Anybody who has been hurt because of a healthcare professional's possible negligence or misconduct should get in touch with a medical malpractice attorney today. An attorney can help clients make sense of what legal options are available, including potentially pursuing compensation that they may be entitled to.