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Perhaps there is no act of medical malpractice that makes as little sense as those when the doctor performs a procedure on the wrong site or the wrong side of the body, performs the wrong procedure, or performs a procedure on the wrong patient. And yet, “wrong site” surgeries are one of the most prevalent problems in medicine today.

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations is a non-profit that accredits and certifies health care organizations nationwide. The Joint Commission asks its members to report and keep track of sentinel events, unexpected events that lead to death or serious injury, and wrong site surgeries are the #1 type of sentinel event recorded.

How prevalent are wrong site, wrong side, wrong procedure or wrong patient events? It’s hard to tell because of the poor rate of reporting. But the Archives of Surgery, the official medical journal of surgical associations across the country, released a report in 2006, that estimated there are between 1,300 and 2,700 wrong site/side, wrong procedure, or wrong patient events in the United States each year. Amazingly, that means that on average there are 3-7 operations each day where the physician operates on the wrong side, performs the wrong procedure, or operates on the wrong patient. Simply stunning.

And it’s even more stunning if you look at some of the worst offenders. For example, last year, a Rhode Island hospital was fined $50,000.00 by the Rhode Island Department of Health after three wrong site surgeries in the same year. Amazingly, two of those procedures involved doctors doing brain surgery on the wrong side of the brain.

Many of us here in the Injuryboard network will use the month of August to provide information about these surgeries. Some of my posts will look at the proper protocol or standard of care for avoiding these events, what a patient can do to help avoid the problem, and a look at a case study of how a hospital handled a recent wrong site surgery.

We hope you’ll check back later if you’re interested.

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