Wrong Side Surgery - Medical Negligence Solicitors Compensation Claims


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Wrong Side Surgery

It was only in the last fifteen years that surgeons were made aware of the number of injuries and deaths associated with surgical mistakes. One of the big concerns is called wrong site surgery (WSS), which is related to wrong side surgery and wrong patient surgery. It is also related to doing the wrong procedure on a patient. WSS can occur in a surgical setting, a minimally invasive surgical centre, a special procedures centre, an endoscopy unit, and an interventional radiology centre.

WSS is considered a sentinel event, meaning it is an unexpected happening that involves death, psychological injuries or serious physical injuries. Of these outcomes, WSS is the third highest ranking event.

WSSs are uncommon events and because the reporting of these events is purely voluntary, the numbers are definitely artificially low. Researchers have discovered the following about wrong site surgeries:

  • They are believed to be 1 out of 30,000 cases
  • They are 1 out of every 100,000 surgeries
  • They happen in one out of every five hand surgeons in their life time
  • They happen to one out of every four orthopaedic surgeons who have had 25 years experience

Regardless of the exact number of wrong site surgeries, most feel they are errors that are completely preventable if the right steps are taken to prevent them.

The incidence of WSS cases has increased recently. The reported number of cases has increased substantially. The majority of cases are orthopaedic or podiatric procedures, along with general surgery, urologic surgery, and neurosurgery.

In order to prevent these errors, the Joint Commission tackled wrong site surgeries by issuing a couple of goals. Goal number one was to improve the accuracy of patient identification by having more than one patient identifier. It also recommended a time out procedure before invasive procedures. Goal four was to eliminate wrong site, wrong patient, and wrong procedure surgeries using a specific preoperative verification system and to have a specific process to mark the surgical site, using friends and family to help identify the patient and site.

One measure that has become standard is to have the surgeon verify the site and mark with indelible ink his or her signature so when the patient is under general surgery, the site is preserved.

The problem is that many surgeries are done in clinics or free standing surgery centres, which are not necessarily associated with the Joint Commission. What this means is that surgical teams and patients need to be vigilant about each and every surgery regardless of where it is done.

Wrong site surgery is usually caused by the organization failing to have a formal system for identifying patients and sites of surgery. Patients are not always aware of the procedure they're having or even the side of the body involved. This involves careful scrutiny by the surgical staff, including the family of the patient so that it is clear what the proper side/site of surgery is. Overall, a WSS is a failure of the system that would otherwise have successfully identified the site if put properly in place.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here