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A frightening example of medical malpractice: wrong-site surgery

Wrong-site surgery, which can include surgery performed on the wrong body part, the wrong side of the body or even the wrong person, sounds like something that should never occur. In fact, that’s exactly why it is referred to in the medical world as a “never event.” It’s one of 20 such medical errors classified this way. However, it does happen far too often.

It’s been estimated that some 40 wrong-site surgeries occur nationwide every week. Since in some states, reporting of these medical errors isn’t mandatory, the number could be higher. In Florida, reporting is mandatory. However, there has been a call to increase mandatory reporting of these “never events” on a national level.

The problem of wrong-site surgery made news recently in Illinois, although the surgery itself occurred over nine years ago. A surgeon removed what he thought was an accessory spleen, a mass of spleen tissue, from a woman who had already had her spleen removed. He described it at the time as a “kidney-shaped spleen.” In fact, it was one of her kidneys.

The woman sued the surgeon, and they reached a $2 million settlement a number of years later as the case was about to go to trial. The state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which regulates professional licenses, did not learn about the medical error until 2013. That’s because state law requires insurers to report medical malpractice settlements. The agency fined the doctor $2,500 in September of last year.

Interestingly, some studies indicate that only about one-third of these wrong-site surgeries result in lawsuits. No matter what excuse the surgeon has for making such a serious error, any patient who has been the victim of this or any type of medical malpractice should at least consider taking legal action. We quite literally place our lives in the hands of medical professionals. They can and should be held accountable to the highest standards of care.

Source: The Peoria Journal Star, “Peoria surgery mistake sheds light on weaknesses in medical reporting rules” Pam Adams, Jan. 02, 2015

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