Patients assume that the first step a surgical team will take before beginning their work is to verify that they are operating on the correct part of the body and doing the correct procedure. This principle is so obvious that it is likely not given a single thought by patients. Unfortunately, it is often the most basic aspects of medical care that are overlooked or given insufficient professional attention. As a result many medical mistakes that should simply never happen, actually do happen. That includes these so-called “wrong site” surgeries.
For example, 10 News reported last week on a hospital that was hit with a $75,000 fine from a state department of health after accidentally cutting a surgical patient in the wrong location.
According to the report, the patient was a 33-year old man who had a lesion on his left testicle. As a result of the lesion, he required removal of the testicle. The surgery was scheduled in advance, and he went in for the procedure as planned. Yet, startlingly, the surgeon began cutting as if the right testicle were the one to be taken out. Fortunately in this man’s case, others on the surgical team noticed the error before it could proceed. The incorrect incision was stitched up and the correct procedure was performed.
In reviewing the incident, the state health department noted that the surgical team committed a basic error: failing to take a “time out.” This refers to a momentary pause before beginning work to verify three basic facts: (1) They are working on the correct patient; (2) They are performing the right procedure; (3) They are performing it in the correct location. These basic premises are so important (and obvious) that sometimes medical teams simply overlook the final check, assuming that everything is correct.
Again and again this cutting of corners causes unsuspecting patients unnecessary harm.
Fortunately, in this case, one hopes that the medical facility learned from the mistake and enacted new safeguards to prevent another patient from suffering unnecessarily. Reports suggest that in the aftermath of the incident the hospital enacted a “performance improvement initiative” in the hopes of completely eliminating wrong-site surgeries.
Cut Corners & Injured Patients
This example is one of many that illustrate the prevalence of medical negligence at hospitals and clinics across the country. Statistics show that the total number of preventable medical errors has not decreased in any meaningful way over the last decade or more. Over a hundred thousand patients or more may die every year as a result of negligence and many more are injured.
All of this is leading many to call for sweeping changes to actually tackle the problem. Comparisons to the aviation industry are common. In the wake of a rash of plane crashes, the aviation industry enacted widespread changes to track every accident and insist on improvement to entirely eliminate the possibility of a repeat. The result was an incredibly improvement in safety, with travel now one of the safety modes of travel.