Operating on the wrong side of a patient's body is a horrible mistake that should never happen. Unfortunately, it occurs more often than you think. Based on data submitted to the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare, wrong site surgeries and procedures occur nearly 40 times per week across the U.S.
The aftermath of wrong site and wrong side surgeries are devastating. In addition to the pain of additional surgery and a lifetime of disfigurement, these mistakes can leave lasting emotional scars. Victims of this type of error may have grounds for a surgery malpractice claim in North Carolina.
To address this problem, the Joint Commission established a uniform protocol for patient safety in 2003.
The protocols include basic checkpoints in four critical times:
- At the check in for the procedure
- Before administration of anesthesia
- Before the incision
- Before the patient leaves the operating room following the surgery.
At each of the first three stages, the medical staff must confirm the patient's identity, receive and verify the patient's consent for the procedure, mark and verify the surgery site and review the patient's medical chart to ensure the staff is aware of any special risks posed.
Before administering anesthesia, the anesthesiologist or nurse should check with the patient to see if they have any allergies and evaluate the risk of aspiration during the procedure.
Once the surgery has been completed, the staff must account for all of the medical equipment and supplies such as sponges and gauze that were used during the procedure.
Despite the universal protocol, officials believe wrong site surgeries are still a problem. According to a recent article by the Washington Post, 93 wrong site errors were reported in 2010, compared to only 49 in 2004. Although reporting of wrong site and wrong procedures is voluntary to encourage doctors and hospitals to be truthful and accurate, it is likely that a large number of errors remain unreported.
Philip F. Stahel, director of orthopedic surgery at Denver Health Medical Center, explained to Kaiser Health News that reported cases are "clearly the tip of the iceberg." This is a critical issue considering that Medicare (which requires such reporting) and will not pay for wrong site surgeries. Medicaid recently announced that beginning next year it will no longer compensate hospitals when such mistakes are made.
To prevent these errors, patients should feel free to speak with everyone involved in the process, especially the nurses who prepare you. Also take time to read and discuss the liability waiver you will be asked to sign. While it does not absolve the medical team of their duty to use reasonable care, it helps everyone understand their roles and expectations. Surgical malpractice attorneys investigate everything from the patient history though the procedure itself to determine if there was any negligence involved.
Victims of wrong site surgeries are entitled to compensation for the costs of additional surgeries and treatment, pain and suffering, and lost wages. If you have questions about the legal implications of a wrong site procedure, a North Carolina medical malpractice attorney experienced attorney can advise you of your options.