Let’s say you’ve been told that you need surgery. Fortunately, you’ve been referred to the “best” surgeon in your area (or maybe even to a nationally renowned doctor out of town) for the type of procedure you need. When you see the doctor, he/she explains everything: What he’s going to do…the results to expect…and how long your recovery will take. You’re impressed. You like his confidence and how he thoroughly covered all the important issues related to your surgery. You green-light the procedure and a surgical date is set.
But wait a minute. Odds are that one glaring fact was not discussed. Did the surgeon disclose that he might be in another operating room with another surgical patient during critical parts of your operation?
In recent years, the number of double-booked operations has increased dramatically as hospitals have been pressuring doctors to bring in as much surgical business as possible. It’s all about the bottom line and rarely, if ever, does the patient know that the doctor who’s been entrusted to perform the operation may not even be in the OR during the actual surgery. Your medical records for the surgery may not even disclose this since they generally describe what was done—not necessarily who did it.
Last year, the American College of Surgeons issued new guidelines saying that patients should be informed if the surgeon doing a procedure is planning to manage an overlapping surgery. But the group’s guidelines are not binding. This past December, a US Senate Committee recommended that hospitals prohibit “concurrent surgeries” (defined as two operations managed by the same surgeon when critical parts occur at the same time). But that too is merely a recommendation. Don’t wait for medical oversight officials to protect you. Here’s my advice on getting all the facts about your surgery—and your surgeon—before you give the go-ahead…
• Ask the question. When you see a surgeon for the first time, it can be intimidating. You’re worried and may be afraid to ask too many questions. But one of the first questions you should ask is if the doctor will be present during your entire surgery. If he says yes, problem solved. But if he says no, ask him to explain who may be doing what and why. Be aware: It may be OK if he says an associate or assistant will close the wound or another specialist is needed in a complex surgery—when a neurosurgeon and an orthopedic specialist work together on, say, a spinal fusion procedure. But you should expect a full explanation. And if you are not satisfied, don’t hesitate to find another surgeon.
• Check out the hospital. Some hospitals already prohibit concurrent or overlapping surgeries. These days, with more surgeons (and their practices) being employed by a hospital, you can simply call the hospital’s medical director’s office to quickly find out if overlapping or concurrent surgeries are allowed. Knowing this could save you a trip if you were planning to go out of town for surgery. Be aware: Nonhospital-based surgical centers (such as those that perform lumpectomies or knee repairs)—even if owned by a hospital—usually have their own policies regarding overlapping surgeries. Be sure to check with the surgi-center’s administrator or your doctor about their policies. This is one detail you want to know before getting wheeled into an OR!