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Referring Physician Initially Blamed for Wrong Patient Surgery

Mar 29, 2017 - Personal Injury, Tuscaloosa by

Wrong patient surgery is considered to be a surgical “never event” within the medical community, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that never events happen with some regularity, and 71 percent of them are fatal.

Our Tuscaloosa personal injury lawyers believe that even one instance of wrong patient surgery is too many. Patients should take a warning from one recent Massachusetts example and learn as much as possible about how a surgical facility safeguards against patient misidentification before they undergo surgery.

Patient Misidentification Can Happen in a Number of Ways

Last year, reports surfaced of a wrong patient surgery in Massachusetts that resulted in the removal of a healthy kidney. In initial reports the hospital claimed that the misidentification error occurred outside of their hospital, possibly connected with the referring physician. However, a NY Daily News article published two months later told a different story. State and federal health investigators noted that the patients were several years apart in age. A birthdate check while examining the CT scan — and a display of the patient’s birthdate on computer monitors in the operating room might easily have resolved the issue.

Patients and their family members should never have to take responsibility for this type of error, but it is advisable to take the following precautions:

  • Check the arm band to make sure that it correctly shows enough information to conclusively identify the patient.
  • Ask about identification protocols used at the facility. How many people on the surgical team are responsible for confirming a patient’s identity? Does the team take an appropriate time out prior to surgery to conduct all safeguards?

Even when surgeons appear to personally know their patients, never assume that identification errors will not happen.

Never Events Continue to Occur at Alarming Rates

The term, “never events” was coined back in 2001, but in spite of knowledge of this serious issue and attempts to reduce its severity, never events continue to frequently occur today. Patients and their families can and should take an active role to help mitigate the risk through conversations with doctors and surgeons. However, the responsibility for issues like patient misidentification can fall to anyone on the surgical team, the facility or even upper management.

Almost by definition, never events occur as a result of some form of medical malpractice. Patients who sustain injuries as a result of never events certainly have the right to pursue compensation for all related expenses.

These are complicated claims that require experienced attorneys who remain current on similar cases and have the knowledge and resources to conduct their own investigations as well. The first moment patients or their families suspect that medical errors might have worsened their conditions is the time to seek legal advice.

Additional Resources

Johns Hopkins Malpractice Study: Surgical ‘Never Events’ Occur At Least 4,000 Times per Year, Johns Hopkins Medicine, December 19, 2012

Other Blog topics

Medical Malpractice Litigation in Alabama – A Look at the Facts, Birmingham Medical Malpractice Blog

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