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The reasons behind wrong-site surgeries

Doctors and surgeons are among the most respected working professionals in America, due in large part to dedication they have in mastering their craft. Yet despite all of their education and experience, these men and women are still human, and thus subject to the same errors as anyone else in Providence. Yet that fact still makes it no less shocking to hear of the mistakes made by doctors when treating patients. Among the most difficult to comprehend are cases when doctors perform surgery on the wrong body part.

Those who think such cases are few and far between would be surprised to learn how frequently such errors happen in America’s operating rooms. According to a 2012 study done by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, cases were surgeons operate on a wrong limb or other body parts occur around 20 times a week, Medical News Today reports. That’s over 1000 events every year.

In an effort to better understand how such errors can be made so frequently, researchers at the University of Colorado studied 6,000 local cases that involved surgical errors. Their findings, which were shared with USA Today, showed that in 85 percent of cases involving a wrong-site surgery, simple errors in judgment were to blame for the mistakes.

While human error can never be eliminated from health care, it can be mitigated if surgeons will follow three simple steps that have been adopted into the standard of care. These include:

  • Pre-procedure verification
  • Marking of the surgical site
  • A pre-procedure “time-out” by the surgical team to verify the procedure being done

In 72 percent of these cases reviewed in the University of Colorado study, no such “time-out” was performed. While not guaranteed to eliminate wrong site surgeries, following such steps would no doubt decrease the number of their occurrences.


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