Understanding Wrong-Site Surgery And Why It Still Happens

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Medical malpractice is an umbrella term that refers to any breach of duty by a health care professional that causes injury or death, whether through negligence or some other type of carelessness. And while medical malpractice issues – such as wrong diagnoses – are well-known, wrong-site surgery has become increasingly more common and can have devastating consequences for a patient.

Here are some things to know about this type of medical malpractice and the efforts to lower the number of cases that occur each year.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice

As mentioned earlier, misdiagnosis is one of the most common types of medical malpractice that leads to a lawsuit. This occurs when a doctor either fails to properly diagnose an ailment or misdiagnoses an ailment, often leading to the prescribing of the wrong medication or a worsening of the original condition.

Birth injuries are another common type of medical malpractice and occur in situations in which a newborn child is injured or dies during childbirth due to the negligence of a doctor.

Medication mistakes, in which a doctor makes an error such as failing to recognize that two medications taken together can lead to serious complications, is another type of medical malpractice that leads to many lawsuits.

Surgical Errors

Many TV shows focus on surgical errors to dramatize the type of malpractice that can result in serious injuries. This usually involves a surgeon making an error that causes damage to a vital organ, or a surgeon leaving an instrument inside a patient before suturing a cut.

But not often talked about are wrong-site surgeries (WSS), a term that refers not only to doctors who operate on the wrong organ or on the wrong side of a patient’s body, but also doctors who perform the wrong procedure on the wrong patient.

There are several subcategories of WSS according to an article from the National Center for Biotechnology:

  • • Incorrect side (for example, left eye rather than right), which can obviously only occur with paired structures such as kidneys, ovaries, or eyes
  • Correct side but incorrect location—occurs where there is more than one similar anatomical structure to choose from (for example, incorrect finger on the correct hand or incorrect eye muscle on correct eye)
  • Correct side and correct anatomical site but the incorrect operation (for example, resection of a muscle rather than recession).

According to Becker’s ASC Review, there were 9,744 malpractice settlements related to wrong-site surgery from 1990 to 2010, for a total of $1.3 billion. These cases resulted in six percent of patients dying, 32.9 percent of patients suffering a permanent injury, and 59.2 percent of patients suffering temporary injuries. In addition, the US Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) reports that there are as many as 50 wrong-site surgeries that occur every week in the United States.

More concerning was a study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which surveyed 400 spine surgeons and found that half of them admitted to performing a wrong-site surgery, typically by operating on the wrong spinal level.

Between 1995 to 2000, wrong-site surgery incidence accounted for 13.4 percent of cases. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations defined these events as “unexpected events in a healthcare setting that cause serious physical or psychology injury, or risk to a patient that is not related to the natural course of the patient’s illness.”

Although wrong-site surgical errors occur less frequently than other types of medical mistakes, according to the Patient Safety Network, they are often the result of a breakdown in communication between surgeons and surgical assistants, as well as between surgeons and surgical preparation supervisors.

Preventing Wrong-Site Surgeries

There is usually not single thing that leads to a WSS, normally there are small errors that add up to a large one. Errors in booking a surgery, verification or the location and type of procedure, distractions, or a lack of a safety culture. Medical facilities that perform surgery need to be aware of all the factors that can lead to WSS and have a strict protocol in place to prevent errors.

One of the ways to prevent wrong-site surgery is for physicians to adhere to reviewing what is known as a pre-operative checklist.

In fact, there are checklists made specifically to help surgeons avoid wrong-site surgery, which typically include questions such as:

  • “Has the patient confirmed his/her identity, site, procedure, and consent?”
  • “Is the site marked?”

In addition, the checklist will typically include a stipulation that all surgeons performing the procedure take a ‘time out’ prior to the operation, which gives them time to verify that they are performing the correct procedure on the correct patient. The patient, if able, should confirm the site is the proper one, and the site needs to be marked with indelible ink that can’t be rubbed off or transferred. The mark also needs to be made by the surgeon and confirmed by the patient.

WSS is known as a “sentinel” event, that is to say it is an unexpected occurrence. This only adds to the pain and suffering it can cause; it can lead to further injury, or worse death. Being an informed and active patient, or advocate for a loved one, can help minimize the risk, but mistakes can, and still do happen. Once the damage is done due to a wrong-site surgery, action needs to be taken as soon as possible, not only to repair the damage done, but to hold the doctor and hospital accountable. No person should have to suffer for someone else’s mistake. Seek out the best medical malpractice lawyer you can find.

Your Advocates In Medical Malpractice Cases

At the Badgley Law Group, our commitment to our clients has earned us high ratings as a law firm that provides first-rate service in areas that include medical malpractice due to factors including wrong site surgery.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries due to a doctor’s negligence, please call us at 407-781-0420 for a free legal consultation. Our founding principles are experience, integrity and excellence, all the characteristics of a winning team.

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