Yesterday we discussed the failure of the Joint Commission to decrease the amount of wrong-side surgery medical malpractice mistakes. A former president of the Joint Commission said that the commission underestimated how simple it would be to prevent these surgical errors and that a more drastic approach is necessary.

A former Joint Commission president said that wrong-site surgical errors can only be prevented if there is a cultural shift in hospitals. Hospitals must somehow force doctors to follow standardized procedures and work in teams. The issue is that the many doctors value their independence and resist checklists because they underestimate their propensity for error. This failure of physicians to double-check that they aren’t potentially making a serious error endangers and kills many patients every year.

The medical director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Innovation in Quality Patient Care said that doctors routinely skip over parts of the Joint Commission’s procedures to prevent wrong-site surgeries. Studies into this malpractice phenomenon consistently reveal that doctors fail to participate in the pre-surgery timeout required to make sure that there are no mistakes.

“It’s disheartening that we haven’t moved the needle on this,” the medical director said about the wrong-site surgery problem. “I think we made national policy with a relatively superficial understanding of the problem.”

Although some wrong-site surgeries are harmless, others can have severe consequences. An Arkansas couple was awarded $20 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit after a botched brain surgery that left their son severely brain-damaged and psychotic.

The typical payout in medical malpractice cases involving wrong-site surgery is approximately $80,000. Patients who suffer from surgical errors should consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney so they can hold the medical professional who caused their injuries accountable and pay for corrective surgery.

Source: The Washington Post, “The Pain of Wrong Site Surgery,” Sandra G. Boodman, 6/20/11