Wrong site surgery mistakes are a preventable problem

Eric Saiontz

By Eric Saiontz
Posted January 14, 2008


Throughout the United States, reports suggest that surgeons could operate on the wrong site about 1,000 times a year. Wrong site surgery mistakes are preventable with if the proper standards of medical care are followed, and most cases are directly tied to human error and a failure to adhere to nationally established procedures designed to avoid the form of medical malpractice.

>>INFORMATION: Surgical Mistake Lawsuits

According to an Associated Press article last month, the Joint Commission, which is an independent organization that accredits most hospitals, receives about eight official reports each month of wrong site surgery being performed. However, the orgainzation’s chief patient safety officer indicates that the true number is likely more than 10 times higher, since hospitals are not required to report such incidents and most do not.

Recently, a series of unfortunate surgical mistakes at Rhode Island Hospital have highlighted the extent of negligence which can occur, even at a well respected facility. During 2007, three different doctors, during three different operations, performed brain surgery on the wrong side of their patient’s brain at the hospital. In two of the surgeries, the doctor did not realize the mistake until after they had cut through the skull, and the other discovered the mistake only after cutting into the scalp. One of the patients died in August 2007 following the surgical malpractice.

A three step process , known as the “Universal Protocal” was introduced in 2003 by the Joint Commission to ensure that doctors perform surgery on the right location. The process involves use of markers to designate where the surgeon should cut and a checklist. In addition, doctors and nurses are supposed to take a “time out” before cutting to double check that everything is right and that they agree on the procedure being performed.

The wrong side surgery errors at Rhode Island Hospital were attributed to the doctors and nurses failing to follow these precautions. The hospital had inadequate training for the safety procedures and failed to require that the steps be followed. During one of the surgeries, the surgeon did not mark the location where he was supposed to operate. In another the patient’s head was marked, but it was on the wrong side and the nurses did not speak up to prevent the surgical mistake.

Unfortunately, the problems at Rhode Island Hospital are not unique to that facility, as many hospitals still do not take steps to ensure that the safeguards are adhered to. Some surgeons resist the process due to egos and over confidence. In addition, many hospitals do not provide sufficient training on the process and do not empower the nursing staff to ensure the procedures are followed. Timid nurses are often reluctant to speak up and challenge the surgeon before or during the operation.


When surgery is performed on the wrong site due to a medical mistake, serious consequences could result. The medical malpractice lawyers at Saiontz & Kirk, P.A. investigate potential wrong site surgery lawsuits throughout the United States. To review the circumstances surrounding a surgical injury and determine if financial compensation may be available, request a free consultation.

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