A Dr. Gerard Gormley is noted for his focus on a problematic issue that might surprise some: right-left confusion. Gormley’s research suggests a frightening statistic: about 10 percent of people struggle to tell right from left. 

Sure, many might think this is a basic concept that is and should be learned at a young age. Rather than simply judging the problem as a ridiculous one, however, it is important from a patient safety perspective to take the reported right-left confusion seriously. 

It is one thing for someone to have to think twice before making a turn while driving. It is another — riskier thing — for someone in the medical profession to have to think twice about what side of a patient is his or her left or right. Right-left confusion in surgery is a specific kind of surgical error classified as a “never event.” Wrong-sided surgery should never happen. There are safety protocols in place to help prevent such a negligent error. 

And it is a good thing that protocols are in place to reduce the chance of a wrong-sided surgery. According to Gormley, he notices “a worrying number” of medical students who make right-left errors while in school. That directional struggle among students simply should not leak into the medical profession, as patients could end up suffering from surgical errors. 

A basic but crucial safety protocol to prevent wrong-sided surgery is for doctors to mark the correct side where a patient’s incision/surgery is to take place before actually performing the surgery. A medical provider’s failure to follow that or other safety measures on a checklist can increase the chance of a surgical error. If you or a loved one becomes a victim of such an error, speak to a medical malpractice attorney in your area.