When people have scheduled surgery, they generally know their surgeon or at least have met them prior to the surgery. However, your surgeon of record may not necessarily be performing (or even be present for) the entire operation.
It’s not unusual for surgeons to have a more junior doctor or even a resident finish up the surgery so that they can move to another room and begin a procedure on another patient. This allows hospitals and their surgeons to accommodate more patients and procedures. These overlapping bookings are particularly common at teaching hospitals where a number of surgeons in training may be observing the procedure and then be tasked with doing some of the less complex parts of it.
Does this practice put patients at risk?
So is this practice dangerous for patients? In most cases, it’s not. One study of some 60,000 procedures at eight medical centers found a noticeable difference in outcomes only in high-risk patients — those with underlying medical conditions like diabetes or hypertension and those undergoing some types of heart surgery.
The study looked at a range of surgeries on adults of varying ages involving the heart, spine, brain, knees and hips. Researchers found a slightly higher fatality rate among those high-risk groups when surgeons weren’t present for the entire procedure compared with patients whose surgeons were present for the whole procedure — 5.8% compared to 4.7%. They also had a slightly higher rate of post-op complications – 29.2% compared to 27%.
Do patients have to be informed of this practice?
Some, but not all, hospitals require their surgeons to tell their patients if they won’t be performing the entire procedure. However, that information might simply be included in a routine surgical consent form that patients often sign without fully reading. That’s why it’s always best to ask if anyone besides your surgeon will be involved in performing the procedure or whether they’ll be present throughout it.
If you or a loved one suffered surgical complications, you need to know who was involved in the procedure. With experienced legal guidance, you can get the answers you deserve so that you can hold the right parties accountable.