Devastating wrong-site surgical errors are subject of concern

Surgeons operating on the wrong side of a patient’s brain or reconstructive knee surgery performed on the right patient, but on the wrong leg are just two examples of wrong-site surgical errors that occur throughout the nation an estimated 40 times a week. In any given hospital, including those in Florida, a patient may awake from anesthesia to discover that the wrong body part was operated on or an incorrect procedure was performed.

The reasons for these errors are varied but include paperwork that is either not completed or that contains errors. In other situations, ink marks made in advance that identify the surgical site are accidentally washed away prior to the operation. Sometimes, operating room personnel fail to fully participate in the timeout period which is designed to make sure everything is correct before beginning an operation.

The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare has issued recommendations for preventing surgical errors. These seemingly commonsense recommendations include taking precautions as simple as making sure the right patient is in the operating room and marking the site of the surgery.

Paradoxically, one of the reasons incorrect surgical procedures occur is because overall they are uncommon enough where the average surgeon or hospital may not have experienced one in some time. This can lead to lack of consistency in following standard safety recommendations with every patient.

Hospitals participating in the Joint Commission Wrong-Site Surgery project found that simple changes made in documenting and verifying patients and procedures has led to a sizeable decrease in the risk that a wrong surgery would be performed.

According to the President of the Joint Commission, every facility faces different challenges, so it is important for each to assess their own risks and to develop methods that reduce the risks.


Chicago Sun-Times: “Surgical errors happen as much as 40 times a week around country despite guidelines,” Monifa Thomas, July 4, 2011