tips on preventing wrong site surgeries

Last week, we posted a story about a four-year-old boy who had eye surgery performed on the wrong eye. A study in 2006 tried to determine how often surgeries are performed on the wrong body part or the wrong patient. The researchers found that around 2,700 of these surgical mistakes happen every year. At that rate, seven such wrong-body-part or wrong-patient surgeries are happening every day.

Experts say that patients tend to underestimate how complex the health care system is, and how many health care workers are involved in a typical surgery. With each distinct person involved in the procedure, there is the potential for that person to miss an important detail or make a mistake that will result in a serious surgical error.

Marks made on body parts in anticipation of surgery can be rubbed off if the preparation of the area is very thorough, or the marks could be covered by surgical draping, which was apparently what happened in the eye surgery on the four-year-old.

A recent story from CNN recommended six steps that patients can take to reduce the risk of wrong-body-part surgery. The following is a summary of those recommendations.

1. Ask the surgeon what steps they take to avoid operating on the wrong area.

The actual answer is probably not as important as simply putting the issue on the surgeon’s radar.

2. Ask for a time out before you are anesthetized.

Everyone on the medical team can communicate one last time about what is going to happen.

3. Repeat your name and birth date to each person you encounter.

They should ask, and it may seem annoying to repeat, but Pennsylvania surgical error attorneys know that giving this information is the best way to ensure that you are not confused with another patient.

4. Be sure and actually read the informed consent form.

The form may also seem boring, since the risks of the procedure have probably been thoroughly explained to you already, but a close look might tell you if the procedure described does not exactly match the procedure you are expecting.

5. Be certain the surgeon initials the correct body part.

Be sure they do it, and be sure it is the surgeon, not someone else, who marks the site.

6. Trust your gut feelings.

The parents of the four-year-old who had the eye surgery were bothered by the fact that a nurse said their son was to have surgery on “one or both eyes,” but most likely assumed the nurse simply misspoke. Most of us are taught to trust that doctors and nurses have all the necessary information and are always well-prepared for any procedure. As this family’s experience proves, that is not always the case. If your instincts tell you something is wrong, it’s important not to be intimidated. Speak up. Ask questions. Don’t be satisfied until you have answers.

When surgeons make preventable mistakes, patients have recourse through the legal system. But it is safe to say that a patient who has been injured would much rather have taken steps before their surgery, if at all possible, and prevented any medical malpractice from taking place.

Source: CNN “Patients, beware of wrong-side surgeries” 4/28/2011

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