Since her surgery, Phyllis Johnson’s neck has been so askew that she can no longer look toward the sky. After his surgery, Duane Pearson found his hands frequently stinging with pain. Orna Berkowitz’s surgery was supposed to be routine, but she ended up in the hospital for 41 days.
The three patients had placed their trust in the same doctor, Rod Oskouian, a top neurosurgeon at Swedish Health.
But there was something they didn’t know: Oskouian’s attention was split during each of their procedures, with internal data showing he was running two operating rooms at the same time.
Johnson, Pearson and Berkowitz recently learned about the double-booked cases from a reporter. Each said they likely wouldn’t have consented to the surgery if they’d known that was happening.
Those cases, along with many others at Swedish, illustrate the wide gulf between the expectations of Swedish patients and the reality of what’s happening in the operating room once they are under anesthesia for perilous procedures. In recent years, some of Swedish’s top brain and spine surgeons routinely ran multiple operating rooms at the same time while keeping patients in the dark about the practice, according to internal surgery data obtained by The Seattle Times as well as interviews with patients and medical staffers.
Four surgeons at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute — Oskouian, David Newell, Johnny Delashaw and Jens Chapman — ran multiple operating rooms during more than half their cases over the past three years, according to the data. Oskouian did it 70 percent of the time. To manage two rooms, surgeons generally leave less-experienced doctors receiving specialized training to handle parts of the surgery.
Swedish’s interim CEO, Dr. Guy Hudson, previously said the best way to describe cases involving multiple operating rooms was the word “overlapping,” suggesting that a second surgery may start as a first one is coming to a close. As evidence, he said Swedish’s internal system won’t let surgeons schedule cases to start at the same time.
But the data obtained by The Times show a conflicting reality: Between 2014 and 2016, there were more than 200 instances when surgeons began two cases at the same time or within five minutes of each other. When doctors ran multiple operating rooms, they typically overlapped their cases for more than an hour, according to the data. More than 700 of the surgeries were entirely eclipsed by other cases the attending surgeon was handling.
Recent research on overlapping surgeries has drawn inconsistent conclusions about whether it can lead to worse outcomes for patients, and Swedish officials pointed to…