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Reducing the occurrence of wrong site surgeries

People throughout Illinois know that there are risks associated with any surgery, but some injuries and even fatalities have nothing to do with allergic reactions or unexpected problems. One error that is completely preventable is operating on the wrong side of the body or applying a surgical procedure to the wrong patient. Prior to 1999, the medical community lacked a clear process for tracking and reporting these mistakes, but the Joint Commission found wrong site surgeries to be the third leading cause of surgery-related injuries and deaths.

Currently, agencies are taking steps to reduce the risk of serious injury by taking proactive steps. Some health insurers are refusing to pay for any medical procedure that falls into this category, and state licensing boards are imposing heavy penalties on doctors and operating centers who are guilty of making these preventable errors.

Medical associations have implemented various protocol to help prevent these errors and keep patients safe. One program involves having the patients actively discuss the surgery with their doctor with the appropriate site being marked before they are given any anesthesia. A time out procedure is also used to reduce the risk. With this policy, the operating room staff takes a few minutes before any surgery to communicate about the upcoming surgery and ensure that all parties have the necessary information. Health care agencies are also investing in great education regarding the new protocol and helping hospitals implement the changes.

Patients who have been affected by a wrong site surgery are often devastated by the experience. They may have more medical bills to cover and a longer recovery time. However, they can take legal steps to hold the doctor, nursing staff and even hospital responsible for the damage. In addition to taking care of their own personal needs, a medical malpractice action may force the medical community in question to further review their standards and put measures in place to prevent future occurrences.

Source:, "Wrong-Site Surgery: A Preventable Medical Error", Deborah F. Mulloy; Ronda G. Hughes, September 19, 2014

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Q: What is medical malpractice?

A: Medical malpractice is negligence committed by a professional health care provider, such as a doctor, nurse, dentist, technician, hospital worker or hospital, whose treatment of a patient departs from a standard of care met by those with similar training and experience, resulting in harm to a patient...

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