If you recently woke up from a surgical procedure only to learn that the surgeon had made an unthinkable error by operating on the wrong part of your body, you are probably in shock. Undoubtedly, this was not one of the risks of the procedure that your doctor warned you about. Did this mistake leave you looking forward to a lifetime of pain and coping with loss or disfigurement?
You may be surprised to learn that you are one of thousands of victims who annually suffer from this “never event.” Sadly, about 3% die from the mistake, and another 41% suffer permanent, life-changing injuries. How does this happen? Even with advances in medical technology, the human element is still often the factor between a successful surgery and a lifetime of suffering.
Why does it keep happening?
Are you among the 15% of people in the U.S. who have trouble remembering your right from your left? You would certainly hope that your surgeon isn’t. Still, it seems that doctors in the operating room sometimes mix up the right and left sides of their patients, especially when staff has turned, rolled or covered the patient in surgical drapes.
Because of this, the Joint Commission, an agency charged with accrediting surgical centers and hospitals, created protocols for these facilities to follow. Your surgical team should have verified your identity and procedure numerous times, marked the site on your body and observed a time-out just before your surgeon began cutting to ensure he or she was not about to make a critical error. Tragically, these “never events” continue because of the following factors:
- Surgical prep teams who wipe the site marking from a patient’s skin during preparation procedures
- Careless staff members who inadvertently schedule you for the wrong surgery or mix up your information with that of another patient
- Doctors who ignore the time-out protocol or who do not use the time to refocus
- Surgeons who believe checklists are for people who aren’t as smart as they are
- Experienced doctors who believe they are too experienced to make mistakes
Doctors who have been on the job for a long time seem to forgo many of the precautions for preventing these “never events” because they feel they have done it enough times that they know what they are doing. Unfortunately for you and other victims of surgical errors, about 12% of surgeons involved in a wrong-site mistake have made a similar error previously. This factor alone suggests these “never events” will continue to occur.