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Prevention of surgical errors

Patients in North Carolina may be surprised to learn that operating room errors, specifically wrong-site surgeries, occur. According to research on wrong-site surgeries that began in 1999, the majority of wrong-site surgical errors are preventable. The adoption of standards and protocols designed to address the leading causes of wrong-site surgery is an important step toward solving the problem according to experts.

Some of the leading causes of wrong-site surgeries are poor organization, lack of communication between surgical staff and lacking systems for checks and balances. Researchers and professional organizations have crafted tools designed to help surgeons to protect patients. Though adoption of these tools has some support from medical malpractice insurers and certain state medical boards, use of the Universal Protocol for Preventing Wrong Site Surgery is still voluntary.

A key element of the Universal Protocol is involvement of the patient or patient's legal representative in the process at multiple stages. Pre-operative verification ensures that the patient is receiving the correct procedure in the correct place. Operative site marking is standardized and provides unambiguous verification for all members of the surgical team. Patients or their representatives may also help to prevent serious injury or death by requesting more information from their physicians on the steps they take to prevent surgical errors.

At the minimum, a wrong-site surgery may result in the need for a second surgery and unnecessary pain. Complications and lost treatment time may turn a surgical error caused by a doctor's oversight into a worsened condition or fatal mistake. An experienced attorney may be able to help victims file a medical malpractice claim by documenting all damages and providing evidence of surgical errors.

Source: ahrq.gov, "Wrong-Site Surgery: A Preventable Medical Error ", Deborah F. Mulloy and Ronda G. Hughes , September 13, 2014

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