The Horrors Of Surgical Errors: Are You The Victim Of A Wrong Site Surgery?

We bet you didn’t know that as many as 50 wrong site surgeries occur in the United States. And that’s not per year either. 50 wrong site surgeries, every week.

It’s something right out of a sci-fi movie. A patient is anxiously waiting to undergo surgery. They’ve made sure they followed all the pre-op instructions and skipped their breakfast to ensure the required fast really is 6 hours long. They’ll do anything to make sure the surgery goes perfect. But despite all of the boxes being checked doctors operate on the wrong body part!

In this post we’ll discuss wrong site surgery and what to do if you’re a victim. Keep reading to learn more. 

Examples Of A Wrong Site Surgery:

Sadly, this isn’t the plot of a new thriller. Wrong site surgeries continue to occur in hospitals all across the United States. Here, let’s take a look at what this type of medical malpractice or negligence may look like in a hospital setting:  

– Doctors operate on the wrong side of the body

– Surgery is on the correct side, but wrong site

– The operation takes place on an incorrect organ

– Hospital staff perform an incorrect procedure

– Miscommunication leads to surgery on the incorrect patient

If the errors listed above seem avoidable that’s because they are. A wrong site surgery is 100% preventable and only occur because of miscommunication or negligence. From marking a surgical site incorrectly to zipping through a checklist, these little mistakes usually end up being very costly to the patient and their loved ones. Even Hollywood star Dana Carvey was the victim of a wrong site surgery. You can read more about Dana Carvey’s wrong site surgery.

Two doctors discuss the findings of an X-ray.

A Fatal Medical Error

In 2012, an 81-year old woman died in Michigan because of an unnecessary surgical procedure. She went to Oakwood Hospital for a routine procedure meant to restore a dislocated jaw. Instead, she underwent a brain surgery after hospital staff incorrectly put her name on another patient’s medical records. The surgical error was caught only after surgeons drilled five holes into her skull and removed the entire right side of it. She died after being on life support for 60 days.

The word “error” doesn’t do her story justice. This woman lost her life. 

What Healthcare Workers Can Do To Prevent A Wrong Site Surgery

There are simple things medical professionals can do to ensure patients don’t fall victim to wrong site surgery errors. Often times the precautions are simple. Let’s explore.

Emphasize Preoperative Patient Verification

This seems like a no-brainer, but we’re mentioning it because it can sometimes be overlooked. Going in before the surgery to ensure the patient’s information is correct and matches their records is vital.  This can help prevent many errors including performing the wrong surgery or performing surgery on the wrong patient. 

Practice The Timeout Method

So this idea stems from the suggestion above. The Joint Commission defines the timeout method as “an immediate pause by the entire surgical team to confirm the correct patient, procedure, and site.” Having a 2-3 minute timeout to brief the patient and all other medical staff part of the surgery (anesthesiologists, nurses, etc) can help improve communication throughout the operation. You know, so everyone’s on the same page. Timeouts have now become mandatory for any invasive procedure. Thank you Joint Commission

Mark A Site Correctly

It’s absolutely crucial to ensure that the site of operation is completely accurate. Because marks can get confusing, it’s vital that the surgeon places marks on the site of operation instead of areas to avoid. This can raise confusion at the time of surgery. It’s also important to use an indelible pen. The mark will remain on the site of operation even after skin preparation and dressing/undressing. It’s also good practice for only the surgeon to mark a surgical site instead of other staff members.

A doctor puts surgical marks on a patient's stomach with a marker.

Speaking Up About Avoidable Errors

Medical errors are estimated to account for 210,000-400,000 deaths in the United States per year. That makes them the third leading cause of death in this country. Right after heart disease and cancer. Many of those numbers can be attributed to wrong site surgeries. We’ll give you a minute to take that in.

American hospitals need to do better when it comes to avoiding miscommunication and little errors that can become life-long issues for individuals and their families. 

If you think you or a loved one may be a victim to a wrong site surgery, please reach out to us. Know that the surgical error was preventable and you have options.