Dr. Dennis Burke recently emerged victorious in his ongoing battle with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) over concerns he raised regarding a startling practice involving surgeons performing multiple surgeries at the same time – concerns which got him fired from his job and resulted in him filing a wrongful termination suit against the Boston hospital.
Dr. Burke was fired in 2015 for allegedly violating patient confidentiality rules, after he released 15 months’ worth of patient records to the Boston Globe to clear his name that he was also guilty of concurrent surgeries. As part of his settlement, in addition to the $13 million, Dr. Burke has been offered his old job back at MGH and will have a safety standard named after him to prevent concurrent surgeries from occurring in the future.
Dr. Burke had worked at MGH for 35 years at the time of his firing. He had complained internally about the practice of surgeons booking concurrent surgeries, often simultaneously, which meant that a surgeon would literally have to be performing parts of two operations, in two completely separate operating rooms, at the same exact time.
To Dr. Burke, this was an inexcusable fact because patients undergoing surgery had not consented to having their surgeon’s attention split between them and another patient, and for good reason – as there are obvious safety concerns regarding a surgeon trying to multi-task, especially during complex operations where a mistake could mean potentially life-threatening, or at the least possibly life-altering consequences.
One former MGH surgeon, Dr. Kirkham Wood, has been brought up as an example of the possible consequences of overbooking. The spinal surgeon has been named in three medical malpractice lawsuits which state double-booking as a cause of issues. One of those lawsuits was filed by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks, who settled his case with MGH for $5.1 million earlier this spring.
While the hospital reportedly hired former U.S. Attorney Donald Stern to investigate Burke’s complaints in 2011, the report that resulted from that investigation has never been publicly released. However, subsequent documents unearthed found that the report may have indeed chronicled problems involving surgeons performing simultaneous surgeries, just as Dr. Burke has alleged.
The hospital has stated that they settled out of a “desire…to move beyond this lawsuit” and “defends and stands by the decisions it made along the way.”
What does this settlement show?
In deciding to settle this case, Massachusetts General Hospital has shown that they are willing to pay a hefty price to avoid going to trial, which could mean many things. It could mean they simply want to move on, but it could also mean they didn’t want to risk the public exposure that such a trial would subject them to, or that they weren’t as confident in their defense as they have stated publicly.
Regardless of what the actual reason may be, Dr. Burke’s tenacious whistleblowing and courage to stand up for himself when his own surgical work was called into question by releasing documents to the Globe to prove his defense of himself is admirable. He seems to have observed something he thought went against the Hippocratic Oath and fought to end it, or at least put it under public scrutiny, which he certainly achieved.
Additionally, Dr. Burke’s actions show us how vulnerable we are when checking into any hospital, even one as renowned as Massachusetts General Hospital. It shows that we place a lot of trust in doctors to do right by us, especially when we’re put under anesthesia to have a surgical operation done. Continue reading