How common are wrong-site surgeries?

Florida residents may know that wrong-site surgeries are surgical procedures that have been performed on the wrong part of a person’s body. An individual who has gone in to have a section of an organ on his or her right side removed, for instance, may have part of an organ on his or left side removed instead. Not all surgical mistakes are this obvious, however. A more common mistake made by neurosurgeons, for instance, is operating on the wrong part of a person’s spinal cord. While these mistakes, known as “never events” since they theoretically should never happen, are reportedly rare, other information points to them being more common than once thought.

A 2009 study utilizing VA hospital data found that a given hospital would likely have only one surgical never event every five to 10 years. This information, however, was based only on surgical mistakes that happen inside the operating room. Since another report found that half of all wrong-site surgeries happen in medical settings other than operating rooms, this means that the levels of this type of medical malpractice could be significantly understated.

In fact, a professor of public health and surgery at Johns Hopkins University believes that catastrophic surgical errors are far more common than the numbers indicate. He estimates that all hospitals, regardless of whether the mistake was made public or not, have a wrong-patient or wrong-site surgical mistake occur at least every one or two years. A study that the professor was involved in found that the errors may not even be made by the surgeon; support staff and other doctors can cause these mistakes as well.

While people trust their doctors with their lives, the aforementioned studies seem to indicate that there are times when this trust is misplaced. Serious surgical errors can result in a reduction in enjoyment of life and other injuries that can lead to substantial medical bills. These mistakes are called “never events” for a very good reason. Those who have experienced this type of medical malpractice may be able to recover compensation with legal assistance.

Source: CNN Health, “Surgery mix-ups surprisingly common,” Amanda Gardner, Oct. 18, 2010.

SourcePatient Safety Network, “Wrong-Site, Wrong-Procedure, and Wrong-Patient Surgery“, October 23, 2014