Can you prevent ‘wrong site, wrong surgery’ injuries?

You’ve probably heard horror stories about patients who have been victims of “wrong site, wrong surgery” injuries. Those are situations where something happens like the surgeon operates on a patient’s left elbow instead of the right, or performs a knee replacement on a patient who was supposed to have a hernia repaired.

Unlike many modern horror stories and urban legends, these kinds of stories are actually true — and they happen far more often than most people think. While it’s supposed to be the job of the hospital and surgeon to get things right, patients are wise to do everything they can to avoid falling victim to this type of negligence.

So, what can you do? Before your next surgery, take the following steps:

Look carefully at everything you sign

Before you sign a statement of informed consent or anything else, take the time to review it. Never assume that your information is correct on anything the hospital hands you. Check your name, identifying information (especially if you have a common name) and anything else that’s important to your medical care.

Ask a family member to stay with you prior to surgery

You may be given something to relax and sedate you prior to surgery, especially if you are nervous. That may make it difficult to focus on what is happening or even stay awake. Your family member can ensure that everything is being handled correctly and you’re being given proper care.

Make sure that the surgeon marks the correct surgical site

This is part of the Universal Protocol that is recommended to avoid wrong site and wrong surgery errors. Your surgeon should verbally confirm the surgery you are supposed to have and mark the body part with a pen. Do not allow a surgery to proceed until you have actually seen your surgeon and spoken with him or her. If you’re sedated, ask your family member to act on your behalf.

“Wrong site, wrong surgery” events are always medical malpractice. They are the sort of thing that should never happen — and are entirely the result of negligence. If you’re the victim of a doctor’s negligent act, remember that you have a legal right to compensation.

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