Senate committee to investigate concurrent surgeries

A U.S. Senate committee is investigating the practice of concurrent surgeries in the nation's hospitals, which allows surgeons to operate on more than one patient at a time, according to a report in The Boston Globe.

Concurrent surgery is common at 47 hospitals across the country and has both critics and supporters, as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has sent letters asking 20 hospital systems to provide records about the controversial practice of allowing simultaneous surgeries, the Globe reported. In the letter, obtained by the newspaper, Hatch asked for the total number of concurrent surgeries performed at each hospital from 2011 to 1015, including a breakdown by specialty, and whether there are policies to ensure patients are informed before the surgery.

"We are concerned about reports of patients not being informed that they may be sharing their surgeon with another patient, and we are especially concerned by reports that, in some cases, steps have been taken to actively conceal this practice from patients,'' the Globe quoted Hatch, a Utah Republican, in a Feb. 16 letter to the healthcare systems.

Among those receiving the letters was Partners HealthCare, the parent company of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said the newspaper, which last year put the issue in the headlines when its investigative team reported on how double-booking of surgeries had resulted in an internal debate within the hospital's orthopedics department over the safety of such surgeries.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz launched a federal investigation into the practice at Mass General last year after the Globe reported on the internal controversy at the hospital which resulted in the dismissal of the doctor who was the leading critic of the practice. Responding to the controversy when it erupted last year, David Torchiana, M.D., CEO and president of Partners HealthCare, defended the practice as one that saves lives. He said it is important to allow residents to do parts of surgical procedures, sometimes unsupervised, as part of their training.

Senate Committee staff members also met last week with representatives of the American College of Surgeons, which is drafting new guidelines to regulate concurrent surgeries, the newspaper said. David Hoyt, M.D., executive director of the surgeons group, told the Globe he expects the guidelines will be unveiled in about a month. 

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