Wrong-site surgery errors, which often cause serious injury to patients, are underreported by hospitals afraid of bad publicity and potential lawsuits.
For Pennsylvania patients ready to undergo a surgical procedure in a hospital, no scenario is more frightening to contemplate than the fear that the surgeon will make a mistake and operate on the wrong part of the body. Earlier this year, Surgical Products magazine published an article observing that “wrong-site surgery is a devastating problem” for patients who have been subjected to such medical negligence. Despite a number of efforts and initiatives aimed at reducing wrong-site surgeries, they unfortunately remain “an all-too-common occurrence today.”
According to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, the available data shows that a “near miss or actual wrong-site surgery” occurs-at the very least-every other day in Pennsylvania. However, the full scope of the problem posed by wrong-site surgery in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is difficult to fully appreciate since it is undoubtedly under-reported by hospitals and surgeons. A health care expert interviewed by Surgical Products Magazine said that it is highly “unlikely” that wrong-site surgery will ever be fully reported due in large part to “the impact on industry image” and a fear of litigation.
Common Causes of Wrong Site Surgery
In an article published in Hospitals and Health Networks magazine, the following problems were identified as those likely to lead to wrong-site surgeries: (1) a lack of communication between operating room team members; (2) site marks-identifying the part of the body where surgery is to be performed-which are inadvertently removed during surgical preparation or covered by surgical draping; and (3) primary documentation not used by operating room personnel to verify the part of the body the procedure is to be performed on. One additional reason given for wrong-site surgeries is disturbing. According to H&HN magazine, marketplace competition and the consequent pressure to increase surgical volume leads to operating room procedure shortcuts which result in wrong-site surgeries.
One of the more common wrong-site surgeries involves operating on the wrong level of the spine by neurosurgeons. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons notes that, in one state study, some 30 percent of all wrong-site surgeries involve operating on the wrong level of a patient’s spine. This is a problem which has “substantial” and unfortunate health ramifications for the victimized patient. While the problem often goes unreported, one survey found that almost 44 percent of practicing orthopedic spine surgeons admitted to having performed a wrong level spinal surgery.
There is no excuse for wrong-site surgeries which are, in reality, 100 percent preventable. The Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses observes that wrong-site surgeries could easily be avoided if hospitals made an effort to do the following:
- Require electronic surgery requests instead of handwritten requests. Surgical requests written in difficult to decipher handwriting can be misleading to the operating staff as to the part of the body to be operated on.
- Ensure that the site mark is always visible. When the surgical site is marked, it needs to be marked so it does not wash or rub off during surgery preparation.
- Do not rush patients through pre-operation procedures since there is a great deal of documentation that should be carefully reviewed prior to performing any scheduled surgery.
- Provide better training to those in charge of scheduling surgery since scheduler’s mistakes in identifying the part of the body to be operated on are difficult to correct once made.
Seeking compensation in Pennsylvania
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a wrong-site surgery, you should contact a Pennsylvania attorney experienced in handling medical malpractice cases. Do not allow yourself to be the uncompensated victim of medical malpractice.