Dena Knapp brought a medical malpractice action in federal court against Dr. Scott Baker and The Surgical Institute of South Dakota in Sioux Falls after a major surgical error occurred. Baker inadvertently removed Knapp’s right kidney during a procedure where her adrenal gland was supposed to be removed. Staff from the pathology department at Avera McKennan Hospital recognized and informed Baker of the error.
Baker then contacted Knapp and stated that he “did not get everything” and that a second procedure would be required. Knapp went to a Mayo Clinic location in Minnesota for surgery to correct the problem; however, she claims to have a kidney disease that is not curable. She is also now unable to complete various daily tasks such as maintaining her home. Knapp’s claim also seeks damages for pain, weakness, feelings of depression and mental distress.
Medical Error Data
According to data from Johns Hopkins, roughly 250,000 deaths occur annually that result from various medical mistakes. This makes medical errors the third most common cause of fatalities behind only cancer and heart disease. The actual number of these preventable deaths is believed to be higher than is reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports these statistics based on what is listed on the death certificate, which may be based on notes from coroners, medical examiners, and others. Many death certificates do not clearly detail that the cause was associated with a medical error. Medical facilities across the country continue to implement better quality control and new technology designed to reduce the prevalence of mistakes.
Catastrophic Surgical Errors
Many surgical mistakes are considered to be catastrophic in nature. Some of these life-altering “never events” include performing a surgical operation on the wrong patient or performing surgery on the wrong body part. The Joint Commission does reporting on patient medical care and finds that many errors stem from the following acts of negligence:
- Hospital bookings (admissions) that are done hastily
- Having insufficient or inaccurate patient medical records
- A failure to obtain and properly document patient consent
- A failure to confirm (verify) the patient’s identity
- Failure to mark the site properly in surgical preparation
- Some type of communication-related problem
“Never events” are obviously demoralizing for patients whose lives are altered. These events are also potentially devastating for the surgeon, medical staff, administration, and organization. In addition to massive costs and litigation, those responsible for the mistake may lose confidence in their abilities and/or endure their own battles with depression. The shocking nature of these events often leads to significant negative publicity that can be very detrimental to their reputation.
The Joint Commission suggests adherence to a policy for a “time out” period prior to surgery to avoid potential mistakes. This involves each staff member assuming a designated role of active responsibility. A surgical site mark is placed and then is verified by the scrub nurse and surgeon. The patient identity is also confirmed during this time and any questions are addressed. During this time it is critical to limit noise and distractions.