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Communication and proactive steps can stop wrong-site surgeries

Double-checking to make sure that you're operating on the right patient and the right body part seems like it should be pretty standard behavior -- but a surprising number of wrong-site surgeries still take place.

In a study that was published in 2011, it was estimated that wrong-site surgeries still took place about 40 times a week!

However, medical facilities are not helpless in this situation. There are things that they can do to prevent the sort of communication failures that lead to wrong-site surgeries:

-- Preoperative time-outs and checklists need to be mandatory. A short breather and discussion about the surgery helps make sure that everyone in the surgical room knows what should be happening, and a checklist helps make certain that everything that needs to be done for the patient prior to the operation is actually done. Checklists also reduce the risk of error during hand-offs.

-- Surgeons need to mark the correct surgery site and sign off on it. They can also mark the wrong site, just so there is no questions. Some surgeons have put that responsibility on patients before -- but it is ultimately the surgeon's responsibility to see that all markings are correct. Just the same, it's also smart to involve the patient in the conversation when the signature is taking place -- just to make certain there is absolutely no confusion.

-- Everyone in the hospital or facility should be responsible for trying to reduce the problem, from the upper management down to the lowliest prep nurse. Prevention of wrong-site surgery needs to be part of all safety discussions and campaigns throughout the year -- keep the emphasis up that this is a 100 percent avoidable error. The "from the top all the way down" policy can also reduce friction with surgeons who may feel that things like checklists and signing the surgery site are unnecessary in their cases -- since they've never made such an error.

As a patient, you need to be proactive and make certain that the hospital or facility that you choose has a plan to make sure that you don't experience a wrong-site surgery. If your concerns seem to be dismissed and no explanation of how prevention is handled, you might want to reconsider what facility you're using.

If you are the victim of a wrong-site surgery, consider visiting our page to learn more about our approach to medical malpractice claims.

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