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Wrong Side Surgery More Common Than You Think

Many patients submit to surgery with the expectation that the medical profession knows its stuff and performs well.

In truth, more than 250,000 people in the United States die every year because of medical mistakes, according to a 2016 study by Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

That means medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer, according to the study.

Totally Preventable

Performing a procedure on the wrong side of a patient’s body may be more common than perhaps many people thought, according to MediBulletin, a medical website based in New Delhi, India.

The good news is that “wrong side surgical errors” are preventable, according to a recent study in Spain. The study found that 81 wrong side error incidents were reported in 100 hospitals in Spain between 2007-2018.

The reality is that the 81 wrong side error incidents probably is an under-reporting of the actual number of such medical mistakes because of the lack of recording of data, said Dr Daniel Arnal of the Hospital Universitario Fundación Alcorcón, Madrid, Spain who led the research.

The research was presented at the Euroanaesthesia Congress, which is the annual meeting of the European Society of Anaesthesiology, in Vienna, Austria.

Findings of the Spanish Study

In the Spanish study, 36, or 44 percent, of the wrong side surgical errors were related to the surgical procedure — and the surgery was actually performed in half of those cases.

The remaining 45, or 56 percent, of the wrong side surgical errors involved anesthesia being administered to the wrong side of the body with an incorrect nerve block performed in 91 percent of cases. Severe harm was caused on three occasions.

The study found about 39, or 48 percent, involved orthopedic surgery (correction of deformities of bones or muscles) and about 23, or 28 percent, involved ophthalmology surgery (treatment of disorders and diseases of the eye).

“However, the reporting of wrong side errors have led to substantial corrective measures to prevent their repetition in our hospitals,” Arnal said.

While serious problems resulting from wrong side surgical procedures are “extremely rare,” the goal of medical professionals must be zero, Arnal said.

Wrong side surgical errors are preventable by:

  • Ensuring every member of a team participating in a procedure follows the surgical safety checklist. This can involve recording information such as the patient confirming his or her identify and their consent to the surgical procedure; ensuring all medical equipment works properly; and determining if the patient has allergies.
  • Supporting establishment of a standardized surgical site marking protocol. This involves placing markings such as adhesive strips on the part of a patient’s skin where the procedure is to be performed.
  • Working to increase the reporting of wrong side surgical errors and reducing the shame felt by medical teams who make such mistakes.

What causes wrong side surgical errors?

Factors that cause these errors include:

  • the absence of or incorrect use of the surgical checklist
  • rushing and poor communication by surgical team members
  • lack of continual training
  • the need for more revision of clinical history and imaging tests
  • the need for more communication with the patient about the surgical procedure

Contact Cherundolo Law Firm today in Syracuse for help with cases involving wrong side surgical errors that are preventable and other medical malpractice and product liability cases.