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Medical malpractice: what is the risk of a wrong-site surgery?

When patients go in for surgery, the last thing they typically think about is whether the surgeon will accidentally perform surgery in the wrong place. But this type of medical malpractice, referred to as wrong-site surgery, does occur and can cause serious injury or even death for a patient.

But last month, the Joint Commission released a progress report on a project intended to reduce the risk of wrong-site surgeries. The project was started back in 2004 and followed a number of different medical centers and their doctors, looking at their pre-surgery procedures.

Many people would agree that operating on the correct arm, leg or organ should not be too difficult for surgeons who spend years in medical school and in residency. But even so, the project found that a number of mistakes were still made in the moments prior to the actual surgery.

The hospitals involved in the project focused efforts on establishing a protocol that all physicians followed before a patient went into surgery. Because there are a number of steps in the pre-surgery process, hospitals saw that there existed many opportunity for mistakes, increasing the risk of operating on the wrong limb, organ, or even patient.

And though it is clear that hospitals are trying to reduce this risk, being the victim of a wrong-site surgery is still a possibility for patients. Imagine going in for surgery on your right leg only to find out that somewhere along the line, a mistake was made and the surgeon operated on your left leg instead.

When a mistake like this occurs because of negligence, the victim of the wrong-site surgery can seek compensation by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon, hospital staff, and hospital.

Source: American Medical Association News online, "Wrong-site surgeries risk reduced during pilot program," Kevin B. O'Reilly, 18 July 2011

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