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Do You Have Your Surgeon's Undivided Attention? Maybe Not

When you or a loved one undergo surgery, you have every right to expect that the surgeon will be focused solely on the procedure at hand. Many people may be shocked to learn that it's a fairly common practice for attending surgeons to be involved in multiple surgeries at the same time in different operating rooms.

This practice of "concurrent surgeries," in which all or part of multiple procedures with the same surgeon overlap is allowed at a number of teaching hospitals. The practice can help give residents experience at a graduated level of responsibility for various aspects of surgical procedures.

Proponents of the practice also say that it allows a hospital's most in-demand surgeons to handle more procedures and reduces patient wait time. In some cases, concurrent surgeries may be necessary if there is a large influx of surgical patients simultaneously, such as with a mass casualty event.

Not surprisingly, the practice has drawn criticism, not just from patient advocates, but from surgeons themselves -- particularly when the surgeries overlap for an extended period rather than simply at the beginning or end.

Regulations regarding concurrent surgeries vary by hospital. Some don't allow them at all. Others allow a limited period of overlap or have other restrictions on them like having a back-up surgeon ready. Still others have no restrictions. Data on how many patients have been harmed or killed due to their doctor performing multiple surgeries concurrently is unclear.

Don't patients have the right to know if their surgeon will be involved in more than one surgery during their operation? Consent forms vary by hospital, but some cover it in a roundabout way. For example, one states that that "my doctor or an attending designee" will be in the room during the most critical parts of the procedure. Patient advocates say this is not truly informed consent.

Obviously a key potential danger with concurrent surgeries is that the surgeon's focus is divided. There can also be a problem if a patient is anesthetized for longer than safe while the surgeon takes time out to work on someone else.

If something goes wrong during your or a loved one's surgery, the question of whether the surgeon was involved in concurrent surgeries, whether allowed by the hospital or not, is just one of the areas that a Miami medical malpractice lawyer will investigate.

Source: The Advisory Board Company, "Concurrent surgeries: What's the line between safe and reckless?," accessed Jan. 15, 2016

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