We’ve all heard horror stories of “wrong-site” surgeries. Most people associate these errors with the wrong limb being amputated or the wrong organ being removed. However, the term “wrong site” can refer to the wrong body part, wrong side of the body or the wrong patient.
Fortunately, such drastic errors are rare – and that’s part of the reason they’re still occurring. As one surgeon who has studied the issue puts it, “The problem is that it is so rare that doctors don’t focus on it.” Another doctor says, “Many surgeons don’t think it can happen to them, so they don’t take extra precautions. When they make a wrong-site error, usually the first thing they say is, ‘I never thought this would happen to me.'”
When these errors do occur, they too often have catastrophic or fatal consequences. One study found that 2.7% of patients died as a result, while over 40% suffered permanent injury.
Who is making these errors?
You might assume that these errors are most likely to be made by young, inexperienced surgeons. On the contrary, about two-thirds of the surgeons at fault are in their 40s and 50s, while under a quarter aren’t yet 40 years old.
Surgeons in some specialties are more likely to make wrong-site errors. Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are among those most likely to report at least one such error. However, it can happen – and has – in just about every specialty.
The surgeons aren’t always the ones at fault. Sometimes, the pathologists or radiologists who complete the pre-surgical reports are to blame. Others in the operating room are sometimes at fault. With wrong-patient errors, it’s often a scheduling mistake.
What is being done?
The problem has not gone unnoticed or unaddressed in the medical field – in no small part because of costly malpractice claims. Protocols have been implemented that range from things as simple as checklists and marking the patient’s body to those involving state-of-the-art technology like wristbands with identifying bar codes.
To properly address the problem, instances of errors (and even close calls) need to be reported. That’s just one more reason why it’s crucial for patients and their families to take action if someone has suffered harm from a surgical error. It’s wise to find out what your legal options are for seeking compensation and justice.