Few Patients Know About Overlapping Surgery

By Lisa Rapaport

March 01, 2017

(Reuters Health) - Most patients don't realize that surgeons are sometimes involved in multiple operations happening at the same time, and many might object to the practice if they knew about it, a recent U.S. study suggests.

Only about 4% of the 1,454 people surveyed for the study had heard of overlapping surgery, the study found. Just 31% strongly supported the practice once it was explained, and nearly all thought patients should be told before surgery exactly what aspects of their operations might be handled by a senior surgeon or by a resident or other assistant.

"Surgeons should discuss overlapping surgery with patients beforehand and obtain their consent if this is part of their practice," said lead study author Dr. Michael Kent of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Generally, people understand the pros and cons of the practice once they know what it is, Kent added by email.

"Respondents understood that overlapping surgery allows surgeons to potentially perform more operations in a given day, so patients may not need to wait as long for their procedure," Kent said. "They also understand that complications may occur when a surgeon's attention is divided, and this may have an impact on patient safety."

Half of the participants were at least 33 years old, and they ranged in age from 21 to 74.

During the survey, researchers randomly selected one of three scenarios: a hip replacement, a procedure to remove a brain tumor or a heart valve replacement. All three scenarios offered similar descriptions of the roles filled by senior surgeons and assistants.

Overall, about 92% of respondents thought surgeons should document what portion of the operations they were present for, researchers reported February 11 online in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

When asked specifically about assistants or trainees, 86% of participants thought patients should be told prior to surgery who would be in the operating room and 84% thought the precise role of trainees should be disclosed.

After overlapping surgery was described, about 70% of participants thought the practice might be acceptable in certain circumstances, such as lower-risk procedures or in situations when an emergency occurred in another operating room.

The survey was done using Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online crowd-sourcing worksite, and it's possible the participants might not reflect a broad cross section of the general public, the authors note.

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2m3SLtK

J Am Coll Surg 2017.

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