Whistleblower doctor files lawsuit over concurrent surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital

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A Boston doctor filed a lawsuit charging surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital endangered patients by performing simultaneous surgeries that kept them under anesthesia longer than necessary.

A former Massachusetts General Hospital anesthesiologist has filed a lawsuit that claims she and other doctors kept patients under anesthesia longer than safe or medically necessary while surgeons performed simultaneous surgeries.

In a federal lawsuit filed in Boston, Lisa Wollman, M.D., alleges that at least five orthopedic surgeons at the hospital endangered patients by regularly performing simultaneous or concurrent surgeries. The lawsuit also charges that the doctors defrauded Medicare and Medicaid by billing for surgeries in which they were not in the operating room for critical portions of the procedures.

The suit was filed against the hospital and its parent company, Partners HealthCare System, as well as the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Physicians Organization.

“This [concurrent surgeries] often meant an unwitting patient was left fully anesthetized—unconscious, paralyzed, intubated, dependent on a ventilator to breathe—for longer than medically necessary, often in the care of trainees, without the backup of a properly qualified surgeon, despite legal requirements,’’ according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

In response to the lawsuit, Massachusetts General released a statement to The Boston Globe. "The MGH continues to believe that its practices comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and the hospital will defend the claims accordingly," it said, according to the newspaper.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first filed by a doctor at Massachusetts General following a controversy that erupted at the hospital over the practice, prompting an investigation by the newspaper and resulting in a national debate over the safety of concurrent surgeries, the Globe said.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, where the practice of overlapping surgeries was brought to public attention by a Seattle Times investigation, some hospitals are making changes to their consent forms. Virginia Mason Medical Center has joined Swedish Health and the University of Washington in adopting new consent documents that inform patients about the possibility of overlapping surgeries, according to The Seattle Times.

New guidelines were released last year by the American College of Surgeons that stress informed consent so a patient knows that a surgeon will be performing concurrent surgeries.

While Wollman’s lawsuit may be the first filed as a result of the Mass General controversy, it’s not the first action taken by a doctor over the practice. A neurosurgeon who raised concerns about concurrent surgeries at a hospital in New York state won a lawsuit last month, as a judge found his challenge of the controversial practice cost him his job. New York Supreme Court Justice James P. Murphy ruled after a bench trial that University Hospital in Syracuse, New York, retaliated against James Holsapple, M.D., after he spoke out about a spine surgeon running two operating rooms at once.

RELATED: Whistleblower doctor who raised issue of concurrent surgeries wins lawsuit

A U.S. Senate committee also investigated the practice of concurrent surgeries in the nation's hospitals and last December released a report urging hospitals to prohibit the practice of allowing one surgeon to manage two operations, where critical parts occur at the same time.