Concurrent surgeries at Mass General caught in crosshairs of new lawsuit

A whistle-blower suit recently filed against Massachusetts General Hospital claims orthopedic surgeons at the Boston-based hospital kept patients under anesthesia longer than necessary so they could complete two or three surgeries simultaneously, according to The Boston Globe.

Lisa Wollman, MD, an anesthesiologist who used to work at MGH, filed the suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Boston.

In the suit, Dr. Wollman alleges at least five surgeons put patients at risk while conducting concurrent surgeries from 2010 to 2015, when she worked at MGH.

This practice could cause patients to be left fully anesthetized "for longer than medically necessary, often in the care of trainees, without the backup of a properly qualified surgeon, despite legal requirements," the lawsuit reads, according to the Globe. Keeping patients under anesthesia for longer than necessary could increase the risk of complications and also lead to higher anesthesia bills.

Dr. Wollman first filed the suit in 2015, but the U.S. attorney and the Massachusetts attorney general declined to pursue it. The suit filed Wednesday is a revised version.

Concurrent surgeries are not a new issue at MGH. In 2015, a Boston Globe report brought the practice to the forefront and made the public more aware of how often this occurs in the industry.

In April 2016, the American College of Surgeons released guidelines on the practice, saying it is "not appropriate" for primary attending surgeons to be involved "in concurrent or simultaneous surgeries on two different patients in two different rooms."

However, the ACS did say that if the critical parts of one operation are complete and there is no foreseeable need for the surgeon anymore, that surgeon can leave while another clinician finishes up. Additionally, it is OK if the critical elements of one operation are done and the attending surgeon is in another room performing key portions of a second operation, the ACS decided. In both of those scenarios, though, the patient needs to be informed and it "should not negatively impact the seamless and timely flow of either procedure."

In this lawsuit, however, Dr. Wollman lists 16 dates in which patients were anesthetized longer than necessary.

A statement from MGH sent to Becker's reads: "The MGH continues to believe that its practices comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and the hospital will defend the claims accordingly."

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