There are few medical errors that are as terrible as those involving surgery on the wrong body part, undergoing the incorrect procedure, or having a procedure intended for another patient.  These errors — “wrong site”, “wrong procedure,” or “wrong patient” errors—are called “never events” in the healthcare community.  They are errors that should never occur in the practice of medicine.  According to the Leapfrog Group , “never events” are “adverse events that are serious, largely preventable, and of concern to both the public and healthcare providers for the purpose of public accountability.”  When they occur, they signal serious underlying safety problems at a particular institution.

One classic example of “wrong site” surgery involves operating on the wrong side of the patient—such as in the case  of the patient who had the right kidney removed instead of the cancerous left kidney.  Recently, a 14-month child  in Mexico had the wrong eye removed by a surgeon, and was left totally blind.  Another type of “wrong site surgery” occurs when a neurosurgeon operates on the wrong level of the spine —this type of error is surprisingly common, as evidenced by an anonymous survey  of spine surgeons which indicated that 68% of the respondents performed either wrong-level exposures or wrong-level surgeries on the spine at some point during their careers.

“Wrong procedures” happen in cases where a patient is scheduled to undergo a particular procedure, but a totally different procedure is performed instead.  These would include situations where, for example, a liver biopsy is performed on a patient who needs a lung biopsy, or a knee replacement is performed on a patient who needs an anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction.

Possibly the worst ever “wrong patient” scenario occurred when the wrong patient at USC got a donated kidney in 2011.  According to the LA Times article , “The hospital did not detail the nature of the error and declined to answer questions.  It said no patients were harmed.”  Not only was the event “inconceivable,” but the hospital’s response was reprehensible. 

As long as a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine  called for mandatory state reporting of these so-called “never events” and other adverse medical errors, in its landmark To Err is Human report .  Without a doubt, public reporting  would play an important role in increasing accountability and improving the provision of quality healthcare. Today, however, only 26 states  and the District of Columbia are mandating public reporting, and the extent of what is actually reported varies.  For example, Georgia  requires hospitals to report adverse events, but it does not require them to publicly report individual hospital data.  It also doesn’t report aggregated data.

At first blush, every instance of surgery on the wrong body part, the wrong procedure performed, or the right procedure on the wrong patient is clear malpractice.  But, to be sure, a qualified and experienced medical malpractice lawyer needs to review the medical record to sort out exactly what went wrong, and where it went wrong.  If you or a family member has suffered one of these injustices, please call our office to discuss the matter.  It may very well be a situation where compensation is due to you.  Only by calling will you know.

Operating on the Wrong Body Part