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Wrong-site surgery and medical negligence – July 19, 2011

“Wrong-site surgery” encompasses surgeries performed on the wrong side or site of the body, the wrong surgical procedure performed, or surgeries performed on the wrong patient. While considered rare, A recent study estimated that about 40 patients per week in the United States still learn that they have been a victim of this type of medical negligence.  While the blame for these mistakes can be attributed across the medical spectrum, all agree that these are errors which should never have occured. Roughly a third of these errors end up as medical malpractice cases.


What makes the above current rate alarming is that in 2004, The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare mandated a three-step “universal protocol” requiring doctors, physicians and other healthcare professionals to perform 1. a pre-surgery verification process, 2. mark the correct site for the procedure to be performed, and 3. conduct a “timeout” discussion as a final check before the procedure begins.


While it is agreed that the three step process is correct in principle, hospitals, physicians and other medical professionals have had a more difficult time implementing the process in practice.  A recent study published in the Archives of Surgery analyzed 27,370 adverse events, 25 of which included 25 wrong patient and 107 wrong-site operations.


In evaluating the reasons for the medical mistakes the group found diagnostic errors accounted for 56% of the wrong patient operations and 100% of the wrong patient errors were due to poor communication.


With regard to wrong-site operations, 85% were due to judgment errors and 72% resulting from not performing “time-out” protocols as required.


These medical errors were also broken down by specialists, with internal medicine specialists responsible for 24% of mistaken patient errors, and orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons and anesthesiologists leading the percentages for wrong surgical site operations.


While the 2004 Joint Commission has apparently made strides, it seems apparent that there is still work to do to avoid these needless and often tragic medical mistakes. If you or a loved one believe that you may have been a victim of medical negligence, please contact the Padberg Corrigan law firm for a free evaluation of your case.



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