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Doctors Operating On The Wrong Patient Is A Common Problem

Cases of mistaken identity are not uncommon. On average, people meet an estimated 80,000 people over the course of a lifetime. You may mix up someone’s name or face, resulting in some embarrassment. However, when a hospital mixes up patients, the results can be dire. In some cases, doctors can operate on the wrong patient, causing serious injury or death.

Unfortunately, operations on the wrong patient are more common than they should be. Such medical mistakes are even classified as “never events,” because they are events that should never occur. In 2004, the Joint Commission, a nonprofit group that accredits U.S. hospitals, developed a set of rules to prevent wrong patient operations. However, a decade later, the problem has not gone away.

According to one report, wrong patient, or wrong site surgery occurs 40 times a week in U.S. hospitals and clinics. However, this number is only an estimate. Almost half of the states don’t require hospitals to report when they operated on the wrong patient. Pennsylvania does require reporting, averaging over 60 cases of these never events a year for the past few years.

According to Mark Chassin, president of the Joint Commission, wrong patient surgery is more difficult to address than previously thought. Increased time pressure and resistance to change are factors contributing to these errors. Doctors don’t want to be told that they have to change their ways. They don’t want standardized procedures or checklists, and they don’t think they are capable of making such a preventable mistake.

Just because the medical industry classifies these as “never events,” does not mean that they are rare. In 2010, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston reported 3 wrong-site spinal surgeries within 2 months. Government officials in Rhode Island ordered video cameras to be installed in the operating rooms at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence after 5 wrong-site surgeries in less than 3 years.

Peter Pronovost, medical director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Innovation in Quality Patient Care, finds the lack of progress disheartening. “I think we made national policy with a relatively superficial understanding of the problem,” said Pronovost. “Health care has far too little accountability for results. All the pressures are on the side of production; that’s how you get paid.”

Surprisingly, many patients injured in a wrong-patient mistake do not seek compensation through the courts. One study found that only about 1/3rd of wrong-site surgeries result in a malpractice suit. Accountability through a medical malpractice lawsuit may be the way to change the health care culture. If doctors are taken to court for operating on the wrong patient, they may be more likely to accept new safety measures to prevent these problems from happening in the future.

If you or a loved one was injured because of a medical error, the Gilman & Bedigian team is here to help. We are fully equipped to handle the complex process of your medical malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.


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