It may seem hard to believe, but some California patients continue to wake up in the hospital only to discover that the surgeon operated on the wrong eye, arm or leg, causing serious damage and exacerbating existing medical problems. While hospitals and medical centers have an array of policies and procedures to minimize the likelihood of surgical errors, these types of mistakes can be rare but also severe.
Wrong-site surgeries on the rise
In 2021 alone, 85 surgeries were performed on the wrong part of the body, according to the Joint Commission’s nationwide statistics. While this number is small in comparison to the vast number of medical procedures performed across the United States, it marks a distinct rise from 68 such incidents in 2020 and 52 in 2019. In addition, these statistics rely on voluntary compliance and reporting, and while large hospitals may have robust reporting plans, smaller surgical centers may often under-report serious surgical errors.
Preventing a “never event”
Wrong-site surgery is referred to as a “never event,” the type of error that should never take place. This is why hospitals are expected to maintain robust safety procedures to prevent such devastating surgical mistakes; the problem is systemic, and not limited to a particular surgeon. Surgical sites should always be marked and repeatedly verified with the participation of the patient. However, messy record-keeping and poor networking can pose a risk of flawed documentation.
For patients suffering the effects of a surgical error, the costs can be immense. While wrong-site surgery is one of the most serious types of medical malpractice, other surgical mistakes can also pose significant risks, including instruments let in the body, inappropriate anesthesia and medication errors. Patients have a right to expect a health system that puts a strong priority on ensuring the safety of everyone who enters an operating room.