When you hear about a “wrong-site” surgical error, you likely think of a surgeon amputating the wrong leg or operating on the wrong organ. However, in the medical profession, “wrong site” is also used to describe a procedure performed on the wrong patient or the wrong area of an affected organ or body part.
While wrong-site surgical errors are statistically rare, when they occur, they can have life-changing or fatal results. One study of wrong-site errors found that even though under 3% of patients died as a result of wrong-site surgical errors, over 40% suffered permanent injury.
What safeguards are in place to prevent these errors?
It may seem unimaginable that in the 21st century, there are still instances (albeit comparatively rare) in which surgeons operate on the wrong part of the body – let alone on the wrong patient. High-tech safety protocols such as bar-coded wristbands and low-tech measures like marking or circling an area on a patient’s body before they’re placed under anesthesia have helped lessen the number of cases.
Who is most likely to make these errors?
Wrong-site surgical errors are more common in some fields than others. They’re most common among neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons. Some two-thirds of surgeons who make wrong-site errors are in their 40s and 50s. Therefore, inexperience doesn’t seem to be the primary culprit.
In fact, it may be the opposite. Experienced, confident surgeons may be less likely to take extra precautions because they don’t think they need to.
These errors are not always the surgeon’s fault. A radiologist or pathologist may make an error in a pre-surgical report. Sometimes an operating room scheduling error is to blame.
One driving factor for the implementation of added safety protocols to prevent devastating mistakes is malpractice claims. While the numbers of victims may be small, the damage – and the compensation sought in medical malpractice suits – can be significant. If you or a loved one has been harmed or worse by a surgical error, it’s crucial to seek the compensation you need and deserve.