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Preventing wrong-site surgery errors

The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare estimated that wrong-site surgery errors occurred about 40 times a week in 2011. This type of surgical error should never occur because it is 100 percent preventable. The president of the commission related that wrong-site surgeries are "relatively rare events... difficult to study. (T)here is usually no single root cause of failure...such events are frequently the cascade of small errors." This is no comfort to those who are the victim of a wrong-site surgery.

Although it is expected that healthcare providers do everything possible to prevent these events, patients who take a proactive role in their healthcare fare better than people who do not speak up for themselves. As a patient, what can you do to prevent a wrong-site surgery? Here are some suggestions:

  • Do not get frustrated when staff validates information. Redundancy is put into place to avoid errors. It is for your safety that you confirm your procedure multiple times to multiple people.
  • Speak up when something does not feel right. If you have a hard time standing up for yourself, bring a family member or friend who can.
  • Get educated about your procedure. You may even want to get a second opinion.
  • If the facility seems unorganized or not engaged with your care, request a time-out to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • The staff should make sure they treat the right patient, performing on the right part of the body and using the right procedure.

The Joint Commission has a universal protocol or checklist that accredited hospitals and surgical facilities use to validate information before a surgery, which is helping to prevent many surgical errors. Because a patient is not coherent in the operating room, it is vital that the staff of the facility be competent and follow procedures.

What to do if wrong-site surgery occurs

Patients should not blame themselves if a wrong-site surgery happens; it is a traumatic mistake that can affect their health, emotions and future. Your insurance company may not pay for the surgery or the one to correct it. And yet, it should not happen. How many times have you heard the saying, "measure twice, cut once?"

Typically, when a wrong-site surgery occurs, there is a multitude of small mistakes, not one big one. It is often difficult to pinpoint who is responsible. If you have been injured through a wrong-site surgery, the providers may pass blame between each other without accepting responsibility, but this does not take care of your situation. You may need to talk to an attorney to assess your situation to determine the best course of action for reimbursement.

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