The simplest way to define wrong-site surgery is to say it is surgery which is performed on the wrong part of the body. For two main reasons, wrong-site surgery can put a patient’s life in danger:
For one, a part of the body which did not require medical treatment was operated on; any number of complications can arise from this.
Secondly, the part of the body which needed the surgery did not receive it, leaving the patient still affected by the original ailment or injury.
For these reasons, and more, wrong-site surgery is a medical error which must be avoided at all costs.
Forms of Wrong-Site Surgery
There are a number of ways that a surgeon can make the mistake of performing wrong-site surgery.
Wrong Side Surgery. This type of medical error occurs when surgery is to be performed on a paired part of the body (for example, eyes, kidneys, or ovaries). What happens is the surgeon mistakenly operates on the member of the pair which did not need surgery.
Wrong Patient Surgery. This refers to a surgeon performing an operation on the wrong patient entirely.
Wrong Procedure Surgery. This refers to a situation in which a surgeon operates on the right part of the body of the right patient but performs the wrong procedure.
Though not all of the above fit into the accepted definition of “wrong-site surgery,” they all equally threaten a patient’s safety.
What Causes Wrong-Site Surgery to Occur?
There are countless reasons that wrong-site surgery might happen to a patient, but most of them simply amount to poor oversight in the surgical room. Sometimes wrong-site surgery happens because two patients had very similar names. Sometimes it happens because the written procedure is not specific enough. But most often it happens because surgeons did not double check all information before operating.
To reduce the rates of wrong-site surgery, medical professionals should make sure to consistently observe the following procedures:
Pre-op Verification. The entire surgical team should verify all information relative to the patient and the surgery being performed. There should be a detailed checklist indicating all necessary information as well as the major stages of operation. This verification should be done more than once.
Accurately Marking the Site. Clearly marking the site of operation (and no other sites) is essential to a flawless surgical procedure. The mark should be visible at all times, and should be verified multiple times before surgery begins.
These are just some quick tips on avoiding wrong-site surgery. Medical professionals should certainly more detailed protocol to follow, and should closely follow this protocol.
Wrong-Site Surgery Rates in the US
According to the Advisory Board Company, wrong-site surgery rates are on the rise, with approximately 93 cases being reported nationwide per week in 2011. This is up from about 40 cases per week in 2004. For more information on why wrong-site surgery might be occurring more now than in recent years, check out our article distracted doctoring.