Wrong Side, Wrong Site, Wrong Patient Surgical Errors

Surgery should always be approached with careful consideration. Although there are many competent surgeons who uphold their responsibilities during surgery, physician negligence does happen and can have serious lasting effects on a patient.  

The three most dangerous mistakes that can happen during surgery are wrong side, wrong site, and wrong-patient errors. All three of these types of errors are often set in motion well before the surgery even begins. 

Unfortunately, even when the Universal Protocol is followed, these errors can still occur. These surgical errors are considered “never events,” and it is possible to hold a physician responsible through a medical malpractice lawsuit

What You Need to Know about Wrong Side, Wrong Site, and Wrong-Patient Errors

There’s a difference between surgical errors that rarely occur and frequent errors. In any specialty, there are unfortunate incidents, and the more specialized, often the more risky—meaning sometimes things go wrong, even when protocols are properly adhered to. However, when surgical errors are egregious or routine, they may  be considered negligent. 

When surgical regulations and protocols aren’t followed properly, the end results can be catastrophic. 

The three most dangerous mistakes a surgeon can make are:

  • Wrong site: making an incision in a patient in the wrong location from the intended surgery site.
  • Wrong side: performing surgery on the opposite side of where the surgery is supposed to take place. For example, making an incision on the left side of the body instead of the right.
  • Wrong patient: this error occurs when the wrong patient undergoes a procedure, which can result in traumatic and permanent damage.

All of these mistakes are also referred to as never events. Never events are a category of sentinel event, which covers other unexpected complications or situations that cause harm to a patient. 

Sentinel events are almost always devastating, but some errors are directly the result of preventable human error and are more concerning to the public at large, these are referred to as never events. These are mistakes that are largely preventable, identifiable, and result in serious consequences. 

What are Sentinel Events?

A sentinel event can refer to a variety of patient safety issues and incidents. The term “sentinel event” specifically refers to an error that results in death, permanent harm, or severe, temporary harm to a patient that is not related to the natural course of a patient’s condition, and includes never events. 

Although a sentinel event can refer to other types of patient safety errors, wrong patient, wrong site, and wrong side surgical errors are some of the most severe types of sentinel events. 

Some other examples of sentinel events include:

  • Fire or unanticipated smoke that occurs during patient care.
  • Incorrect blood given to a patient during a transfusion.
  • Discharging an infant to the wrong family.
  • Falls that occur at the healthcare facility and result in broken limbs or brain injury.

Any type of sentinel event is extremely debilitating to the patient, physician, and health care provider, regardless of exact cause. 

Can Physicians Avoid Wrong Site, Wrong Side, Wrong Patient Events?

To help physicians avoid a wrong patient, wrong site, or wrong side surgery, there’s a checklist referred to as the Universal Protocol. It’s sole purpose is to force surgical teams to slow down and double-check pertinent information relating to surgery specifics for each patient. 

This checklist is consulted before any incisions are made and requires healthcare workers to double-check the surgery site, procedure, and patient identity, among other things. 

By mindfully reviewing the items included in the Universal Protocol checklist, physicians can avoid starting a wrong-site surgery or performing surgery on the wrong patient altogether. 

Some items on the Universal Protocol checklist include:

  • Conducting a pre-procedure patient verification.
  • Addressing misinformation or discrepancies before making an incision. 
  • Clearly marking the incision site, especially if two surgeries are happening simultaneously.
  • Ensuring the incision mark is created by a certified and licensed physician.
  • Performing a final time-out before an incision is made to check patient identity, surgery site, and procedure type.

There are numerous other items on the Universal Protocol checklist that help surgeons and surgical teams avoid any unnecessary mistakes before surgery begins. All are important and should not be disregarded.

How Can a Physician Be Held Liable for One of these Errors?

These types of surgical errors are severe and can result in temporary or permanent harm, which can decrease the quality of a patient’s life. Typically, the surgeon can be found liable for a wrong patient, wrong side, or wrong site surgery. 

A qualified attorney can review the specifics of your case and determine if there are grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. 

If you or a loved one has been a victim of a wrong patient, wrong site, or wrong side surgery, contact one of our licensed attorneys now

Free Case Evaluation

Contact us if you would like an evaluation of your potential medical malpractice claim.

Get Started