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What Are the Top Causes of Wrong-Site Surgeries?

March 20, 2023

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Having the wrong body part operated on seems like something that only happens in television shows or movies. Unfortunately, it’s a reality for thousands of patients every year. A 2012 study found that it’s estimated to occur around 40 times per week in hospitals and clinics in the U.S.

Victims of wrong-site surgeries not only suffer needless surgical complications, but they also must undergo a second procedure to address the health problems that were supposed to be treated in the first.

With all the charts, documentation, and electronic recordkeeping in hospitals and surgical clinics, it can be hard to believe that surgeons can make such grave mistakes. But it continues to happen around the country, including Ohio, and the American Medical Association says it’s usually due to a few common reasons.

Scheduling Errors

Many wrong-site surgeries occur because of errors during the scheduling process:

  • The people scheduling the surgeries don’t verify the existence and/or accuracy of the original procedure or surgical orders from the patients’ doctors or surgeons.
  • The schedulers accept verbal requests for surgeries instead of written documentation.
  • The forms used to schedule and book surgeries are filled out using unapproved abbreviations, have crossed-out words or sentences, or have illegible handwriting.

Pre-Op Errors

Wrong-site surgeries can also happen when pre-op processes are flawed in some way:

  • The patient consent forms, medical history, surgical booking orders, and operating room schedules are missing, inconsistent, or incorrect.
  • The surgical sites are marked inconsistently, marked with temporary markings such as stickers, or marked by staff other than surgeons.
  • The patients’ identities or surgical orders aren’t verified because the surgical teams are rushing to complete the procedures or are distracted.

Operating Room Errors

Surgeons and other surgical staff may cause or contribute to wrong-site surgeries while patients are in the operating room:

  • The surgeons and their teams don’t stop to ensure that procedures and surgery sites are correct when operating on patients who need multiple procedures.
  • The communication and briefing processes between surgeons, their staff, and other medical providers are incomplete or ineffective during patient hand-off.
  • Surgical site markers are removed or washed away when cleaning and sterilizing the skin where incisions will be made.
  • The surgeon or surgical team is distracted or rushing during the “time-out” period, which is when the surgery site and type of surgery are finalized in the operating room.
  • The “time-out” period occurs without the full participation of everyone who will be involved in the surgery, including the surgeon and all surgical staff.
  • The patient and surgical documentation isn’t used or checked immediately before making the initial incision during a surgical procedure.

Organizational Errors

Some wrong-site surgeries are due to hospitals and surgical clinics having a poor or disorganized culture:

  • The hospital or clinic isn’t focused enough on patient safety.
  • The staff isn’t empowered or allowed to speak up when they notice issues or have safety concerns for patients.
  • The hospital or clinic doesn’t follow up on policy changes with proper staff education to maximize patient safety.

Wrong-Site Surgery Claims Require Determining When and How the Error Occurred

Of all the types of surgical medical malpractice, wrong-site surgeries seem the easiest to prove. After all, when a patient has a surgical procedure performed on the wrong body part or site, someone clearly messed up.

While it’s true that establishing something went wrong during a wrong-site surgery is usually a given, determining when, how, and even by who the error occurred isn’t as straightforward—and that’s essential for a successful medical malpractice claim.

As shown above, wrong-site surgeries can occur because of mistakes at any point during the surgical process, whether it’s from when the surgery was first ordered to the moment the first incision occurs.

Our Ohio Medical Malpractice Lawyers Know How to Build and Win These Claims

The consequences of wrong-site surgeries are devastating and often disabling for patients. Both the medical bills and lost wages associated with them can be enormous. But despite how obvious the errors are in wrong-site surgeries, these claims still require significant experience and knowledge to win.

At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, our lawyers have a deep understanding of medical malpractice claims, including those involving surgical mistakes. But we don’t rely solely on our own experience and knowledge—we also have close relationships with expert witnesses, including physicians and surgeons. These expert witnesses help us pinpoint exactly when and where the negligence occurred that led to wrong-site surgeries.

Contact us today if you or someone you love is a victim of wrong-site surgery. Your health was harmed and your trust in the medical professional was broken, and you deserve maximum compensation for your damages.

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