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Wrong-site surgeries remain a problem in U.S. hospitals

On Behalf of | Nov 9, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

We all hear stories of people suffering from wrong-site surgeries to the point that some patients will write on themselves with permanent maker which part of their body should be operated on. Wrong-site surgeries unfortunately still occur. These incidents sometimes go overlooked in the medical industry as rare occurrences. However, they do occur in the Washington, D.C., metro area and elsewhere in the nation and when they do, they cause significant harm to one or more patients.

What is a wrong-site surgery?

A wrong-site surgery occurs when an operation is performed on the incorrect patient, the incorrect body part or the incorrect side of the body. One study reports one out of every 112,994 surgeries are wrong-site surgeries. While this may not seem like much, these medical mistakes add up. A second study reports that approximately 25 to 52 wrong-site surgeries in the U.S. take place weekly. Nevertheless, surgeons often take the attitude that wrong-site surgeries are very rare, so they need not take extra precautions to prevent them.

Wrong-site surgeries are incredibly dangerous. One patient safety group stated that in 2013, 2.7% of those who were the victims of a wrong-site surgery lost their life and a further 41% suffered permanent injuries due to the wrong-site surgery.

Does experience play a role in wrong-site surgeries?

You may think that younger, less-experienced surgeons would be more apt to perform a wrong-site surgery. However, experience does not seem to play a huge role in preventing wrong-site surgeries. According to one report, two-thirds of surgeons who were responsible for wrong-site surgeries were in their 40s and 50s. In comparison, less than 25% of wrong-site surgeries were committed by surgeons under age 40. Moreover, one survey reports that 12.4% of physicians who committed a sentinel event like a wrong-site surgery generally had committed such infractions in the past.

 What is being done to prevent wrong-site surgeries?

The Joint Commission, a group that accredits hospitals and surgical centers, addressed the issue of wrong-site surgery in 2004. It required hospitals to complete three tasks to avoid wrong-site surgeries. The first is to perform preoperative verification that the right patient is being operated on. The second is to mark the area of the patient’s body that is to be operated on. The third is for the surgical team to take a “time out” and stop taking any actions before beginning surgery to determine if they are about to make a surgical error. However, a study performed two years after these protocols were established revealed that wrong-site surgeries only went down by approximately one-third highlighting the complexity wrong-site surgeries present.

What can you do if you are the victim of a wrong-site surgery?

If you are the victim of a wrong-site surgery, it is likely that you will want to seek compensation for the damages you suffered. One option is to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. Physicians owe patients a duty of care. If this duty is breached and the breach causes a patient to suffer damages, the physician responsible for the breach may be held accountable.