The idea is terrifying—hundreds of people every year wake up from surgery to find that their doctors operated at the wrong place on their body. From amputating the wrong limb to performing surgery on the wrong vertebra, wrong-site surgeries are involved in many surgical patients’ nightmares.
The Joint Commission, a non-profit organization which provides accreditation to hospitals and laboratories around the country, conducted a study of several hospitals’ wrong-site surgical errors between 2010 and 2013. Member organizations of The Joint Commission reported 463 wrong-site surgeries over three years, but The Joint Commission notes that the actual number of these surgeries is much higher. According to their own estimates, The Joint Commission believes that there are likely 50 wrong-site surgeries per week in the United States.
In a study of the 2010 to 2013 time period, The Joint Commission identified several risk factors for wrong-site surgeries in hopes that the number of occurrences will decrease. By understanding how these mistakes happen, you may be able to decrease your chance of being injured during your next surgery.
Operating rooms and surgeons have busy schedules, and many different procedures may be scheduled in the same room on the same day. A surgeon and the surgical team rely heavily on the medical office schedulers to arrange the patients and the rooms correctly, which can unfortunately lead to mistakes if the paperwork is wrong.
In looking at errors like surgeries performed on the wrong patient or in the wrong location, The Joint Commission found that some could be prevented by created a better organized scheduling system. The Joint Commission recommended that hospitals implemented procedures which required office schedulers to verify all of a patient’s documents at least 24 hours prior to surgery, stop accepting verbal appointments and require written paperwork, and use a uniform system of abbreviations which surgeons can understand.
Before a surgery, a patient is held in a waiting or holding area. When errors occur here, they are usually the result of either missing or incomplete paperwork, rushed medical staff who conduct insufficient patient verification procedures, or inconsistent marks made on the body to indicate the surgery site. The Joint Commission again recommended streamlined paperwork procedures and consistent body markings prior to surgery.
Errors during the surgery itself can occur for a variety of reasons. In analyzing operating room mistakes, The Joint Commission recommended that for patients with multiple procedures, the surgical staff should take care to stop and make sure that the next operation is accurate and in the right location. In addition, The Joint Commission found that occasionally, marks which indicate where the surgery is to take place can wash off while the patient is being prepped. As with other areas, The Joint Commission also found problems with patient identification and verification procedures. Finally, some mistakes occurred during breaks or time-outs in the surgery, with too many people rushing or unprepared when returning to the operation.
Finally, The Joint Commission found than an unorganized hospital or medical facility could also contribute to wrong-site or wrong-patient surgeries. The Joint Commission identified problems where staff was too passive or intimidated to speak up about errors, and also found that inconsistent policies led to mistakes.
The process of scheduling an operation takes many people and many forms. Patients can help take their health into their own hands by verifying their identity and the surgery to be performed with the surgical team prior to an operation, and by making sure that their surgeon knows the location where he or she is operating.
No matter how careful a patient is with his or her scheduled operation, mistakes can happen. When a mistake happens because of a hospital or doctor’s negligence, that injured patient has the right to seek compensation for the harm the operation caused.
If you or your loved one was injured by a wrong-site or other incorrect surgery, you have important legal rights to protect. Make sure that you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries by hiring an experienced California medical malpractice attorney like Bradley I. Kramer.
At the Trial Law Offices of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., Esq., our experienced staff of legal and medical professionals can evaluate your medical case and will help you understand your rights. To schedule a free appointment in our Beverly Hills office, call (310) 289-2600 today or use our online case evaluation form.