When Illinois residents seek surgical treatment they often trust that their physicians will do their best to ensure that they come out of surgery in better condition than they when they arrived. Unfortunately, a Chicago personal injury attorney knows that that is often not the case and simple medical errors are often to blame. According to a national survey performed by Medline Industries, Inc., 65 percent of operating room nurses in the U.S. cite wrong-site surgery as their number one safety concern. Despite the high level of concern, few states have mandatory reporting policies in place for these errors so they continue to be underreported every year.
What is wrong-site surgery?
Wrong-site surgery is made up of a few different kinds of medical errors. These include the following:
- Surgery performed on the incorrect side or site of the body
- Incorrect surgery
- Surgery performed on the wrong patient
The Joint Commission, which is responsible for the accreditation of healthcare organizations within the U.S., considers wrong-site surgeries to be a sentinel event, an unexpected event that involves the risk of or actual death or serious physical or psychological injury. These are often known as never events.
How doctors prevent their occurrence
In 2003, the JC introduced the Universal Protocol which outlines certain steps that healthcare providers can take to prevent wrong-site surgery from occurring. The preoperative verification process should involve gathering all relevant documents and studies prior to the commencement of the surgery. Everything should be reviewed and verified with the patient and team as well. Any missing information or discrepancies should be addressed prior to the start of the procedure.
Surgeons must also physically mark the operation site. Many surgeons now sign their names at the correct incision site during preoperative appointments with patients. Any markings made should remain completely visible after a patient has been prepped and draped. Additionally, the entire team must take a “time out” immediately prior to starting the surgery. During this time, the doctor and team must conduct a final verification of information, including patient name, procedure, site, and any implants that may be involved.
The JC found that despite all of these efforts, wrong-site errors are the third most common type of sentinel event in the industry. They occur 40 times per week in the U.S. However, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, as few as 10 percent of wrong-site surgeries may be reported to the JC because of voluntary reporting policies. This would place the actual event occurrence closer to 400 times each week, which would likely not surprise a Chicago personal injury attorney. Separate researchers have confirmed that the number of reported incidents is not near the actual occurrence rate with widely varying results. One 2006 study found that these errors occur in 1 out of 27,686 cases while another 2006 report stated that the incidence was much lower at just 1 in every 112,994 surgeries. Despite the discrepancy, it is clear that these underreported events are completely preventable and should not be occurring at all.
Real stories of harm
Although some wrong-site surgeries do not cause patients significant harm, others can be devastating. The Washington Post and Insurance Journal report that a 15-year-old Arkansas boy was scheduled to undergo surgery on the right side of his brain for treatment of seizures when his surgeon instead began operating on the left side. After realizing his error, the doctor moved to the correct site. However, significant areas of his brain had been damaged. After the surgery, the surgeon disclosed what occurred to the boy’s parents but stated that he had not done any damage to the brain.
More than a year later, the boy’s parents learned that tissue had in fact been removed from the right side of their son’s brain. The discovery came after the boy developed severe psychotic episodes and showed obvious signs of brain damage. He now lives in a rehabilitation center. A jury awarded a verdict of $20 million to the family, which was subsequently reduced to $11 million on appeal.
Another separate incident involved a British man who was recently scheduled to undergo treatment for a minor urological condition. According to the Huffington Post when doctors performed the surgery they mistakenly gave him a vasectomy, potentially leaving him unable to have children. A vasectomy involves severing the tubes through which sperm passes as a form of birth control. Although it is possible to reconnect the tubes in some cases, only 40 to 50 percent of reconnection attempts are actually successful. Both of these incidents could easily have occurred to a man, woman or child in Illinois.
Preventative protections patients can take
Patients should remember that they are not always powerless to prevent these situations. Taking the proper precautions and insisting on certain procedures can help safeguard patients from receiving a wrong-site surgery. The Patient Safety Authority states that patients who take an active role in their healthcare can prevent wrong-site surgical errors from occurring. The following steps may help patients stay safe during a procedure:
- Know the treating physician in charge of their care.
- Offer additional information to confirm identification, such as a birth date.
- Do not be afraid of confirming the site and procedure multiple times.
- Insist that the doctor mark the surgery site at a preoperative appointment.
- Ensure that a family member or friend is present to act as a patient advocate.
- Never be afraid of asking for a second opinion.
Patients should always speak up with any questions or concerns they may have.
When wrong-site surgeries occur, they can be life changing. Patients who have been the victim of such an error should contact a Chicago personal injury attorney for assistance with their matter.