Although surgeons receive years of intense training and perform hundreds or even thousands of procedures for which they are trained, they can and do make surgical errors that may lead to medical malpractice claims.
Any major surgical error can be devastating, but a wrong-site surgery is one that is especially frustrating for patients. For example, doctors have been known for amputating the wrong limb, necessitating loss of both limbs since the correct procedure has yet to be performed. A 2006 study found that the incidence of wrong-site surgery in the U.S. could be as high as 2,700 cases per year-about seven patients each day.
Although surgeons and their staff take precautions, often patients are seen by numerous doctors before the actual procedure, which can increase the chance of error. Regardless, patient safety advocates argue that these cases are preventable and should never happen.
Advocates have recommended the use of a checklist, which the American Academy of Ophthalmology uses to minimize the risk of wrong-site surgeries. Unfortunately, mistakes keep occurring, such as when a nurse mistakenly wipes off a surgical-site mark. Also, surgeons can become disoriented when examining a patient and end up marking or indicating the wrong item for surgery.
Patients can ask the staff which procedures they follow to ensure that the correct body part or site is marked in the records. One recommendation from the Joint Commission’s Universal Protocol is that the surgical team take a time-out and review with each other the procedure to be done.
To prevent the wrong procedure on the wrong individual, the patient can ask the staff if they know his or her complete name and birthday and ascertain that the information is noted correctly on the charts.
Reading and comprehending the informed consent form is vital for patients to ensure that errors are not made regarding the procedure to be performed, and that the correct and complete medical history is taken into account.
Finally, if the patient is not comfortable about something, he or she should make inquiries and talk to the surgeon before the procedure to allay any other fears.