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What's a concurrent surgery and why should it worry you?

Hospitals use the term "concurrent" or "overlapping" surgery when they talk about the importance of managing busy operating rooms and the need to coordinate a surgeon's schedule.

However, "concurrent" and "overlapping" are really polite terms for "double-booked." If your surgeon is double booked, here are some reasons you should worry:

1. You may not even be told who is actually going to perform your surgery.

There are situations where an attending surgeon may be needed to oversee more than one surgery at the same time, but those are generally emergencies. In the case of a pre-planned surgery, double-booking is usually done with little or no information given to the patient and solely for the convenience of the surgeon or hospital. Teaching hospitals often use concurrent surgeries to let their attending surgeons nominally oversee procedures while less-experienced surgeons do the work.

2. The primary surgeon is being asked to multi-task instead of focusing on your care.

As some patient-safety advocates have noted, not all surgeons are equally equipped to handle multi-taking. Some surgeons are simply bad at it, while others may gradually lose the ability with age.

In addition, there are no national standards that help surgeons define which type of procedures are acceptable to multi-task and which ones aren't.

3. There are no long-term studies that indicate how safe double-booking actually is.

Because no long-term studies examine the actual safety of the practice, nobody really knows if patients are being put at unnecessary risk or not. However, there's a logical inference that important information might be missed when a patient is handed off to a different surgeon for "finishing." That could lead to unnecessary complications for that patient or others, depending on the situation.

4. If something does go wrong while the primary surgeon is out of the room, you could suffer significant trauma while waiting on the surgeon to return.

For example, if you begin to bleed out or develop breathing difficulties, the senior surgeon in charge may be able to quickly size up the situation and fix it. The junior surgeon may have to wait on help—in the interim, you could suffer damage to your vital organs or brain while you lie there.

If something does go wrong during a double-booked surgery, consider talking to an attorney to discuss the possibility that double-booking led to a surgical error.

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital, "About Concurrent/Overlapping Surgery," accessed March 03, 2017

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