April 22, 2022

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has agreed to pay $14.6 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging it fraudulently billed government insurers for surgeries performed by trainees without proper oversight because supervising surgeons were working in another operating room, a practice known as concurrent surgery. Three concurrent surgery settlements since 2019 have cost MGH a total $32.7 million.

Former MGH anesthesiologist, Dr. Lisa Wollman, alleged in her federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed on behalf of the United States and Massachusetts governments that she repeatedly witnessed and complained about concurrent surgeries from 2010 to 2015, and that at least five orthopedic surgeons regularly kept patients under anesthesia longer than medically necessary (sometimes more than an hour longer) because the surgeons were working in two operating rooms. Wollman’s whistleblower lawsuit alleged that MGH violated Medicare and Medicaid rules that require surgeons to be present for at least the critical parts of operations. Wollman further alleged that government insurance programs were overbilled for anesthesia services because the practice of surgeons moving back and forth between operating rooms prolonged procedures. Wollman had worked at MGH for 24 years.

While not admitting any wrongdoing in agreeing to settle Wollman’s federal whistleblower lawsuit, MGH nonetheless defended the practice of allowing concurrent surgery, arguing that overlapping surgeries are an efficient way to utilize its most talented surgeons and allows surgical trainees to perform routine tasks such as closing surgical wounds while attending surgeons proceed to other surgical cases. Pursuant to the settlement, surgeons at all hospitals in the Mass General Brigham network will have to inform patients when they plan to overlap operations with other patients’ surgeries.

An orthopedic surgeon who is the president of the Society for Patient Centered Orthopedics stated: “There’s no world in which you should have a person under anesthesia for an extended period of time waiting for a surgeon when it’s all scheduled, elective surgery. Any patient should think twice about going to an institution that sanctions this kind of behavior.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office approved the settlement, stated: “Patients should be fully informed about the details of any medical procedure, especially when it comes to simultaneous surgeries. This resolution returns nearly $2 million to MassHealth and the Group Insurance Commission, and requires updated consent forms at Mass General Brigham to improve transparency.”

Dr. Dennis Burke, a leading orthopedic surgeon, was fired by MGH in 2015 for allegedly violating patient confidentiality, which he denied. Burke, who now practices at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Milton, declined to accept his old job back in 2019 when MGH agreed to pay him $13 million to settle his wrongful termination lawsuit. Also in 2019, MGH and a former spine surgeon, Dr. Kirkham Wood, who operated on former Red Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks’ back while also overseeing another surgery, agreed to pay $5.1 million to settle Jenks’ lawsuit alleging a career-ending injury.

Many hospitals allow concurrent surgeries if they overlap for only a few minutes, such as having surgeons-in-training close surgical wounds during the first surgery when the primary surgeon leaves the room while the patient is still on the operating table, to perform another surgery, but Wollman’s whistleblower lawsuit alleged 16 dates from 2011 to 2013 when five orthopedic surgeons allegedly performed at least two operations simultaneously over a period of hours. Wollman alleged that in each of those cases, patients remained under anesthesia longer than was warranted, thereby increasing the risk of complications and inflating anesthesia charges.

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If you or a loved one may have been injured (or worse) as a result of concurrent surgeries in Massachusetts or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Massachusetts medical malpractice attorney, or a medical malpractice attorney in your state, who may investigate your concurrent surgeries malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a concurrent surgery case, if appropriate.

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