In Connecticut, a woman underwent surgery to remove a portion of her rib after a precancerous lesion was found. The surgery was intended to minimize the risk of cancer and to hopefully prevent the need for further medical intervention. Unfortunately, the surgery left her in significant pain. After an x-ray, a surgeon who had not completed her surgery informed her that part of the wrong was removed. Instead of removing part of her eighth rib, the surgeon had removed part of her seventh rib.
Medical terminology refers to wrong-site, wrong procedure, wrong patient adverse events (WSPEs). WSPEs are considered “never events,” errors that should never, ever happen in medicine. The occurrence of a never event is always considered a marker of serious safety problems at a medical facility. Unfortunately, researchers estimate 1300 – 2700 WSPEs happen each and every year in the United States.
Self-Reported Data Show Higher Possible Incidence
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) surveyed a group of several hundred surgeons and found that half of them had performed at least one surgery that ended up being a WSPE. Perhaps due to the complexity of the spine, orthopedic surgeons who focus on spinal procedures are most likely to report a wrong-site surgery. This could also be due to some aspect of the spinal surgeon’s work that makes them more likely to report the event.
Best Practices Could Minimize WSPEs
As with surgical errors in general, WSPEs often occur due to communication problems amongst the members of a surgical team. Nurses and other perioperative professionals report feeling unable to speak up due to the hierarchy between them and doctors or surgeons. Unclear expectations or processes for communication leave the team prone to miscommunication.
A set of best practices released in 2004, The Universal Protocol for Preventing Wrong Site, Wrong Procedure, and Wrong Person Surgery, may be part of the answer. If implemented universally, these best practices would prevent over 60% of wrong-site, wrong procedure, wrong patient adverse events. Though best practices cannot prevent an individual from feeling pressure not to speak up, they do provide guidelines for when speaking up is highly recommended or required. Training is an integral part of The Universal Protocol, as all surgical team members need to be engaged in the same practices for safety improvements to occur.
Wrong site, wrong procedure, and wrong patient procedures can create the need for additional surgery or more intensive medical interventions. In rare cases, complications from a WSPE can even result in death. The medical errors are costly in many ways. The surgical error attorneys at The Lee Steinberg Law Firm can help you recover damages from a hospital, surgeon, or medical staff responsible for a WSPE. We offer a FREE consultation, so you have an opportunity to discuss your case and learn about the representation and service we provide our clients. Call us today at 1-800-LEE-FREE to get started.