We all know that doctors often double-book patients. That’s why we often find ourselves waiting in the exam room for what seems like an eternity in a paper or cotton wrap with only a selection of 5-year-old magazines to pass the time.
However, if you’re undergoing surgery, you likely assume that you will have your surgeon’s full attention throughout the entire procedure. Yet that’s not always the case.
Overlapping surgeries are not as rare as you might think
Many patients don’t realize – and are never informed – that a resident or more junior surgeon may finish up the surgery and close the patient’s incision while the lead surgeon moves on to another operating room and their next patient. Meanwhile, another doctor may have begun that next procedure while waiting for the primary surgeon to take over.
This practice of a surgeon having overlapping procedures is not new or particularly unusual – especially in teaching hospitals. It gives new doctors much-needed surgical experience and allows senior, sought-after surgeons to perform more surgeries.
Does it change the outcome?
Most of the time, this practice doesn’t cause any harm to the patients. One study published in 2019 of some 60,000+ surgical procedures of various kinds at eight medical facilities found that overall, the patients whose surgeons weren’t present throughout the entire procedure didn’t have worse outcomes than those whose surgeons stayed from beginning to end.
However, for patients in high-risk groups (those who had underlying conditions and/or those who were older), had about a 1% higher fatality rate. They were also about 2% more likely to experience complications after surgery.
Do hospitals have to inform you?
Not all medical facilities require disclosure to patients prior to the procedure if the surgeons of record won’t be present throughout the entire operation. However, even when they do, that disclosure could be part of a long consent form that many patients and families don’t fully read or understand. That’s why it’s best to just ask outright.
If you or a loved one has suffered harmful complications during or after surgery, one of the key facts to determine is who participated in the surgery and what their roles were. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you get the answers you need to determine how to proceed.