Wrong Site Surgery
Going in for surgery can be a stressful ordeal. Someone is cutting into your body to repair something or maybe to take something out — all while you’re knocked out on anesthesia. You trust your surgeon and his or her team to know exactly what they’re doing and to do the job right. Often, a surgery goes off without a hitch and you end up getting better, once your incisions have healed. But occasionally, a patient wakes up in a hospital bed and has the horrifying realization that the surgeon did the wrong surgery on the wrong body part.
When a surgery is performed on the wrong site in your body, it’s virtually always because of negligence. If you’ve experienced a wrong site surgery because of the negligence of a surgeon, hospital, or the hospital’s medical staff, you may have a claim for medical malpractice. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can talk to you about your procedure and what happened, and whether you might have a claim. Through a medical malpractice claim, you may be able to recover compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
In recent years, the number of wrong site surgeries was on the rise, prompting The Joint Commission — the accrediting body for hospitals — to launch a program aimed at reducing the frequency of this error. The Joint Commission developed the Universal Protocol to improve patient safety during surgical procedures.
The protocol has three overall steps, with smaller tasks under each step. Everyone in the operating room should go through a checklist before surgery to make sure the protocol is followed. The three steps break down into:
- Pre-surgery verification — This involves verifying that the surgeon is performing the correct surgery on the correct patient and at the correct site. The patient should be involved in this step if possible. That might involve asking the patient to verify his or her name and the procedure he or she is there for. If the surgeon thinks John Doe is there for a gallbladder removal but the patient says he’s John Smith who’s getting a hernia repaired, that’s obviously a sign that something is wrong. Verification also should involve looking at any relevant documents including the patient’s medical chart, signed consent form, and pre-operative tests, and that a supply of the patient’s blood type is on hand along with any items needed for the surgery.
- Marking the surgery site — The Joint Commission recommends at a minimum marking the location on the body where the surgery will be performed when performing it on a different location would harm the patient. The site should be marked before the surgery begins, and again the patient should be involved if possible to make sure the surgeon marks where the incision will go for John Smith’s hernia repair and not John Doe’s gallbladder removal. Marks should be clear and consistent and permanent enough to remain visible once surgery starts. Sometimes a patient might refuse to be marked, or the nature of the surgery might make it impossible to mark the site. In that case, alternative processes should be in place to ensure that the surgeon operates on the right site.
- Performing a time-out — Once all questions or concerns are resolved and right before the surgery starts, the OR team should conduct a time out. During the time out, which is a standardized process, the team should agree that they have the right patient, the right site, and the right surgery planned. If the patient is having more than one surgery, there should be a time out before each procedure. The time out should be documented.
How Mistakes Happen
When you are the victim of a wrong site surgery, it’s usually because someone made a mistake. Your medical chart may have been mixed up with someone else’s. Someone may have written down the wrong information in your chart, like noting that you’re there to have your right knee replaced when it really should be your left.
The universal protocol should eliminate most of the possibility for mistakes, especially if the patient is involved while the team goes through the checklist. If a mistake is made, chances are the protocol wasn’t properly followed or the checklist not completed.
Consequences of Wrong Site Surgery
When you are the victim of a wrong site surgery, not only have you experienced the pain and trauma of an incorrect surgery, but the condition you were supposed to have surgery to fix is still present. That means more doctors, more tests, more hospitalization, and more surgery. It also means more medical expenses and more time away from work — and either would be a strain for most people or families.
You could end up very sick if your medical condition wasn’t corrected with the surgery that was planned. In some cases, not getting the right surgery can be life-threatening, such as going in with acute appendicitis and having the surgeon take out your gallbladder instead of your appendix.
If you have been hurt because of wrong site surgery, contact an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney who can evaluate your situation and determine if there is a medical malpractice claim. Call us at (312) 236-2900 for a free legal consultation with our lawyers today.