Surgeons who “run two rooms” face increasing scrutiny

The practice of surgeons “running two rooms” is under intense scrutiny following a Senate investigation.

The practice of overlapping surgeries, commonly called "running two rooms," isn't one that the general public is widely aware of, but it is common in teaching hospitals throughout the country. As the Washington Post reports, overlapping and concurrent surgeries, wherein the senior attending surgeon performs two or more surgeries at the same time in separate rooms, is coming under increased scrutiny. The practice has been criticized for potentially leading to surgical errors and for placing profits before patients.

Concurrent vs. overlapping surgeries

As Medscape reports, Medicare rules currently allow for head surgeons to work on two surgeries at once so long as the critical components of each surgery are not being performed concurrently. During overlapping surgeries, the head surgeon is supposed to be in the operating room for the critical components of each surgery, but may delegate to a trainee less critical components. During these less critical components the head surgeon is often out of the room working on the other surgery.

However, surgeries do not always proceed according to plan and a critical issue can arise even during a non-critical stage. A 2015 Boston Globe investigation found that in some cases patients were kept under anesthesia for long periods of time before the senior surgeon could return to the room. In other cases, the senior attending surgeon could not be found, thus requiring trainees to continue with the surgeries without any supervision.

U.S. Senate investigates

While hospitals argue that overlapping surgeries are safe and even allow trainees to gain valuable hands-on experience, critics say the practice prioritizes profits before patients. The more surgeries a hospital can book in a day then the more money it can make.

Furthermore, critics point out that patients are often unaware that their surgery has been double booked. In some cases, hospitals will only tell patients that their surgery has been double booked as they are being wheeled into the OR. It is also common for surgeons to use euphemisms with patients when describing overlapping surgeries, such as by saying that the senior attending surgeon will be "supervising" another doctor.

The controversy has led the U.S. Senate Finance Committee to issue new guidelines on the practice. Among those guidelines are a ban on concurrent surgeries (but not on overlapping ones), greater consistency in identifying critical components of surgeries, and ensuring patients fully understand that their surgery has been double booked and giving them enough time to find another surgeon if they choose to do so.

Medical malpractice law

A hospital is where patients expect that they will receive the best care and treatment possible. Unfortunately, in some cases hospitals do fall short of their own standards and the consequences can be particularly devastating for patients. Anybody who has been hurt because of a medical professional's alleged negligence or misconduct should contact a medical malpractice attorney today. An experienced attorney can help clients in a number of ways, including by potentially helping them pursue whatever claims for financial compensation that may be available.