can patients protect themselves from wrong side surgeries

In our last post, we reported a disturbing statistic. Studies suggest that there is an average of up to seven wrong-side surgeries performed every day throughout the country. Sadly, the concept of medical malpractice and surgical errors is something we’re all familiar with. But wrong-side surgeries are one of the most egregious surgical errors that exist, and their prevalence is alarming.

Surgical errors caused by preventable, careless mistakes are not something patients in Pittsburgh should need to worry about with all the other stress associated with surgery. Thankfully, the following tips can help you protect yourself from wrong-side surgery.

Make sure your surgeon initials the surgery site. All surgeons must see their patients the morning of surgery. During that time, surgeons must confirm what operation will be performed. To help ensure they do not operate on the wrong body part of a patient, many surgeons use markers to indicate where incisions will go, and they sign their initials. If your surgeon doesn’t mark the incisions or sign the surgery site, it’s okay to ask him or her to do so.

Say your name, birthday and the operation you are having. Each time a new member of the health care team checks on you, verify this critical information. Your health care team should also check your wrist band repeatedly.

Take a timeout. Before you are put under anesthesia, ask your medical team to take a timeout. During that time, state your name, the operation you are having and, if applicable, verify whether the operation is on your left or right side.

Read the consent form thoroughly. You might feel overwhelmed the morning of surgery, so ask your surgeon to go through the consent form in the office the week before your surgery. If there are things that don’t make sense, ask clarifying questions.

Trust your gut. Some patients are good at identifying their intuitive feelings when something feels awry. Sometimes things seem incorrect or are incongruous with what was discussed. Asking questions when things seem wrong can help ensure everyone is on the same page.

Finally, be aggressive and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Develop a good relationship with your surgeon. Patients should feel empowered to ask questions. There isn’t any surgeon who will be offended by patients who have a good understanding of what is happening.

Source: abc NEWS, “Report: Hospital Errors Often Unreported,” Lara Salahi, Jan. 6, 2011

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