Wrong-site surgeries include surgery on the wrong side or site of the body, on the wrong patient and/or performing the wrong surgery. It’s the No. 1 safety concern for 65 percent of operating room nurses (Medline national survey). It happens up to 40 times a week in the U.S. (Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare).
Over a decade ago, the Joint Commission announced its “Universal Protocol” to reduce wrong-site surgeries. It mandates a three-step process before any invasive procedure or surgery: a verification process, marking of the operative site, and a final time-out (to reconfirm the right patient, the right procedure, and the right site/side). Yet, years later, patient safety experts say the problem of wrong-site surgery has not improved. In fact, Dr. Mark R. Chassin, head of the Joint Commission, said eradicating wrong-site surgery involves changing the culture of hospitals and getting doctors – who typically prize their autonomy, resist checklists and misjudge their potential for error – to follow standardized procedures and work in teams.
Although patients do not have control over the culture of a hospital or the preoperative procedures, there are things the patient can do that may reduce the risk of wrong-site surgery:
- Talk to your surgeon about the procedure he/she is about to perform on you and understand what is going to be done;
- Ask your surgeon about the policy and procedure utilized for site/surgery verification, for marking of the surgery site, and the final time-out;
- Make sure the correct surgical site is clearly marked while you are awake before you enter the OR. If you cannot be awake for the marking, have a family member, a friend, or another health care worker watch the marking and confirm that the correct site is marked;
- If possible, mark the wrong site (write wrong knee, wrong elbow, etc.);
- The staff will ask you to sign an Informed Consent form before the surgery. Make sure you read it carefully to see that the correct surgical site is listed (we have handled a wrong-level disc surgery medical malpractice case where the surgical time-out was based on an Informed Consent that listed the wrong level disc, which caused the wrong-site surgery); and,
- Be actively involved and voice any concerns you may have. Patients who are actively involved in their own care have a better chance of a better outcome.
Every day, we at Terrell • Hogan, represent victims of personal injury and wrongful death as they seek justice, but helping prevent accidents and injuries is also a constant focus. Lawsuits we have pursued for deserving victims have prompted safety changes, but that came after the accidents and injuries happened. We think it’s important to try to find ways to prevent injuries and wrongful deaths before they happen. That’s why we feel it’s important to help spread this life-saving word information about wrong-site surgery.