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Wrong site surgery: how it can happen, and its effects

November 6th, 2014
On behalf of David Bowling of The Bowling Law Firm, A Professional Law Corporation posted in Medical Malpractice on Thursday, November 6, 2014.

The phenomenon of surgical errors that involve mistakes such as leaving a surgical instrument inside a patient’s body, or accidentally injuring an organ during surgery, is well known among medical and legal professionals as well as many people in the general public. This is easy to understand, as a surgical mistake such as leaving a clamp in a patient is often sensational enough to make the news.

There is another kind of error that can happen in surgery that is perhaps even more striking when it occurs, but which may not be as generally well known: a surgery that is performed in the wrong location, or even on the wrong patient.

The egregious nature of a wrong-site surgery begs the question of how such an error can happen. It is one thing, to lose count of how many surgical sponges are being used or to leave one behind; quite another to operate on the wrong organ or to even switch patients. Yet such errors, although not common, do occur.

The leading causes of wrong-site surgery are connected to breakdowns of formal means of communication and control procedures. These take many forms, from inadequate reviews of patient records, multiple surgeons who do not properly coordinate with one another, time pressures from heavy patient volumes or emergency cases, or simply incorrectly marking the site where the surgery is to be performed.

The consequences of a wrong-site surgery can be disastrous in multiple ways. Not only is the injury or condition needing surgical treatment left untreated, but complications can arise from performing surgery where it is not needed, including the need to perform additional surgery to correct the mistake made in undertaking surgery in the wrong location. The harm to the patient can have financial as well as direct health ramifications.

It is beyond the scope of this post to address how hospitals and health care professionals can reduce the occurrence of wrong-site surgeries; but for anyone who has been the victim of such a mistake, consulting with a personal injury law Firm can help to address the negative effects of this particular form of medical malpractice.

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