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Wrong-site surgery causes, methods of prevention

Hospitals and staff take precautions to avoid errors, but there are instances when medical mistakes harm patients. Common causes of wrong-site surgery have been identified, and measures are now in place to stop surgeries from happening on the incorrect side or place on the body. While WWS is very serious, Illinois residents have little to fear because these incidents are rare. Additionally, doctors will make efforts to verify information with their patients before surgery is performed.

The Joint Commission's Sentinel Event program found that WSSs happen most commonly in orthopedic, neurosurgical, general and urological procedures. Surgical errors can occur with the breakdown or lack of a formal system that verifies the site of a surgery, and extra care should be used when performing surgeries in freestanding centers or physician's offices. The Joint Commission determined the most prevalent causes of WWS are communication failure, leadership and procedural noncompliance. Additionally, patients face greater risk for WSS when there are room changes, emergency cases, multiple surgeons, time pressures or multiple surgeries.

"The Universal Protocol for Preventing Wrong Site, Wrong Procedure, and Wrong Person Surgery" is one tool used to reduce WWS. The protocol helps to reduce errors because it implements a standard routine that involves marking the operative site, a verification process before surgery and taking time to brief those working in the operating room. Adhering to this protocol is part of the Joint Commission's accreditation process.

Surgery is often supposed to solve a problem but can result in serious injury, pain and suffering and expensive costs when error occurs. Seeking compensation for malpractice can be strenuous, and some hospitals lack transparency and accurate reporting. An attorney familiar with hospitals and medical practices may be sought after an experience with a careless surgeon or negligent operating room staff.

Source:, "Wrong-Site Surgery: A Preventable Medical Error", Deborah F. Mulloy and Ronda G. Hughes, September 15, 2014

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