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Wrong Patient Operations: A Preventable Medical Error

Wrong Patient Operations: A Preventable Medical Error

Undergoing a surgical procedure is a dangerous and stressful event. The majority of surgeries tend to go smoothly and produce favorable results, but mistakes can and do happen. Unfortunately, surgical errors are surprisingly common.

One of the most frightening scenarios is “wrong patient surgery.” This mishap occurs very rarely—data suggests that less than 1% of surgical errors involve operating on the wrong person. However, when it does occur, wrong patient surgery has about a 7.7% mortality rate and a 26.9% permanent injury rate.

If you are undergoing a surgical procedure you should be aware of the risks of surgical errors such as wrong patient surgery as well as how to prevent it. Our Anchorage surgical error lawyer explains.

What Happens if a Surgeon Operates on the Wrong Patient?

Operating on the wrong patient falls under the umbrella of wrong-site surgery (WSS), which encompasses surgery performed on the wrong area of the body, performing the wrong surgical procedure, and surgery performed on the wrong patient.

All medical professionals are trained to uphold a “duty of care” when they treat patients. If a doctor, nurse, or other health care worker makes an error that causes harm to a patient, they could be held liable for medical malpractice and sued for damages. Surgical errors like wrong patient surgery are a very serious form of malpractice. Such a mistake is considered a “never event” because it should have never occurred in the first place.

Fortunately, in the scheme of things, these events are very rare. One extensive study suggests that the average hospital only mistakenly performs a WSS once every five to ten years. However, when a WSS such as wrong patient surgery does occur, it can be devastating for the patient.

By now you may be wondering, how do such egregious errors even occur?

Causes of Wrong Patient Surgery

Surgeons and other medical professionals are only human, so mistakes are inevitable. Doctors are often overworked, and some may even turn to drugs or alcohol to keep themselves focused or to relieve anxiety. Operating on the wrong patient may simply occur because a surgeon picked up the wrong patient’s chart.

Possible causes of wrong patient surgery may include:

  • Insufficient planning
  • Doctor fatigue
  • Operating under the influence
  • Miscommunication
  • Incompetence

Preventing Wrong Patient Operations

To reduce the risk that this will happen to you or a loved one, talk to the surgeon or a nurse before the procedure. Though they should approach you at some point to verify your information, it never hurts to be proactive, especially when your health is on the line.

Don’t hesitate to ask extensive questions about your surgery, such as:

  • About how long will it take to recover following the operation?
  • Are there any alternatives to this operation?
  • Exactly where will you be operating?
  • What are the risks of this procedure?
  • What is the surgical procedure called?
  • What is the success rate of this procedure?
  • What will the surgical team do to ensure my safety during the procedure?
  • Who oversees the surgical team? Can I meet them?
  • Will the correct part of my body be marked before the operation begins?

Communication is key. Simply prompting your doctor to pay a little more attention to your chart and the upcoming procedure can make a big difference.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of a wrong patient operation, please reach out to our Anchorage surgical error attorney at your earliest convenience. We offer free, no-obligation case evaluations to all new clients.


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