Despite procedures to prevent it, wrong-site surgery is on the rise. At least that's what the numbers say. The Joint Commission estimates wrong-site surgery happens 40 times a week on average. The number of cases reported to the Joint Commission nearly doubled in 2010 over 2004.
It seems something as simple as operating on the correct body part would be easy to ensure. Not so, and blame is placed on a medical culture in which doctors resist double-checking and second-guessing. Carpenters have said it forever: measure twice, cut once. Why won't doctors listen?
You can go the extra step in assuring correct care. The government's Partnership for Patients is all about improving health care outcomes and lowering costs. Patients should also be aware not all states require reporting of wrong-site mistakes. This is something you might want to take up with your state's lawmakers, no? Because taking it up with your lawyer afterwards won't make you feel better. The average payments to wrong-site victims are only $81,000 in filed cases and $47,000 in cases resolved without lawsuit.
If you've had surgery lately, you might recall being asked many times, "what are we operating on today?" A nurse or doctor may even have given you a pen and had you mark which area of the body, like the right or left knee, the surgery was for.
The whole point of this is to make sure the surgical staff operates in the proper place. So it's shocking to know what's called "wrong-site surgery" happens far too often.
A Tragic, $20 Million Dollar Mistake
Cody Metheny was a 15-year-old who suffered from seizures. In 2004, he had surgery at the Arkansas Children's Hospital where the doctors were supposed to remove tissue from one side of his brain to lessen his seizures. The doctors operated on the wrong side of his brain, resulting in complete and irreparable brain damage.
Not Supposed to Happen
Wrong-site surgery comes in a couple of varieties. A surgeon might operate on your left knee instead of your right. A surgeon might perform the right procedure on the wrong patient. A surgeon might do a hip replacement where a knee replacement was intended.
You'd think wrong-site surgery would be rare. But the hospital where Cody Metheny was hurt told his lawyer it happens all the time. It's not the patient who's to blame. It's almost always caused by poor communication between doctors and hospitals.
Procedures in Place to Eliminate Wrong-Site Surgery
Health care providers should have procedures in place to eliminate the risk of wrong-site surgery. Hospitals, administrators, nurses and surgeons must follow guidelines set out by the Joint Commission. The Joint Commission gives accreditation - a seal of approval - to hospitals in the United States.
According to the Joint Commission’s policies, hospitals are supposed to follow a triple-check system before conducting any surgery. Before even entering the operating room, the hospital is supposed to check:
- If they are treating the right patient
- The right part of the body
- The right procedure has been recommended
In the operating room, before starting the procedure, the protocol requires a time-out and final verification of what's to be done. During this check all of the professionals involved must agree unanimously on what's to be done.
Some tips for patients to prevent wrong-site surgery, include:
- Having patience with the nurses and other surgical staff as they ask you questions about your procedure
- Having the surgical site marked before the operation and agree about what procedure is being done
- Being educated about your procedure and asking for a second opinion before it's done
A Failure to Communicate
Even though the doctor was to blame, Cody's parents sued the hospital too. A hospital can be to blame for medical malpractice in a number of ways. This may happen when you were injured because of:
- The hospital's negligence
- Negligence by a hospital employee, staff member or someone else the hospital was responsible for
It's hard to imagine wrong-site surgery happening. It's harder still to see how it couldn't happen without malpractice. In Cody's case, the hospital refused to acknowledge this. It took a hard line and wouldn't settle. The jury awarded Cody $20 million.
The hospital placed all the blame on the doctor who performed the operation. He admitted fault and settled for $1 million.
The jury found the hospital liable too. The Joint Commission's protocol involves everyone in the decision of the correct surgical site. The jury seemed to say that had the hospital done its part, the doctor could not have made the mistake he did.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If a surgeon is negligent during an operation, how is the hospital responsible for this?
- If a hospital is a nonprofit or charitable organization, can it still be sued for malpractice?
- How would tort reform affect the right to be compensated for this type of injury?