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A closer look at wrong-site surgery

No one looks forward to surgery, but most San Antonio residents expect the best and hope that the operation will result in improved health.

Unfortunately, surgery can have the opposite effect. Far too often, surgical errors occur, leaving patients with more medical problems after the operation than they had before. Wrong-site surgery is a preventable medical error that has changed forever the lives of the victims of doctor negligence.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states in its publication titled "Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses," that 79 percent of wrong-site eye surgery results in medical malpractice awards. The claim rate is even higher for wrong-site orthopedic surgeries (84 percent).

The NIH also says that such surgeries are rare, but then admits that it is possible that only 10 percent of actual wrong-site surgeries are even reported. So the exact number of these preventable surgical errors is unknown; an unsurprising outcome in a profession known for its secrecy.

The NIH says that as far it knows, most wrong-site surgeries are in "orthopedic or podiatric procedures, general surgery and urological and neurosurgical procedures."

Most of the mistakes are caused by a failure by the surgical team to identify and verify the correct site of the surgery. The NIH's analysis of the reported wrong-site surgeries indicates that 70 percent involve miscommunication, while 64 percent are have procedural noncompliance as one of the causes.

Other causes include multiple surgeons on the team, emergency cases and time pressures, unusual set-up or equipment and operating room changes, among others.

None of those things excuse a preventable surgical error, of course. You can speak with an attorney experienced in pursuit of full, fair compensation for all damages in medical malpractice claims.

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