The concept is often one that is ripped right out of a horror novel or late-night news special. The idea that doctors can perform surgery on the wrong side of the body is a frightening one. Most people would dismiss the idea of such a surgery mishap as being a remote occurrence, believing things like medical training and advanced technology would help prevent such things. However, there is some alarming information that has come to light because of a news report from The Providence Journal, a newspaper in the state of Rhode Island. An article that detailed how three different patients had doctors perform surgery on the wrong side of their brains uncovered the disturbing statistic showing just how common such snafus actually are in the medical world.
When taking the number of surgeries that occur on a yearly basis, the statistics show that a doctor is more likely to leave a small item in the body after surgery than operate on the wrong side or part of the body. The percentages are rather small when one first looks at them, making it seem like a minor occurrence that isn’t really a viable risk. However, once someone considers just how many that those percentages actually represent, one comes to realize that that small number could mean hundreds or thousands of people every year are experiencing problems of that sort. The worst part is that there is a distinct possibility that the number is inaccurate because most of the cases of this sort of thing happening during surgery are not even reported by the patients or doctors.
A number of these incidents are of the hit-or-miss variety, where the doctor realizes that they’re not going after the target area before any real damage has been done. In most cases, this would not count as medical malpractice since the surgery was halted and directed to the appropriate area of the body before any real harm was caused. However, when one considers how sensitive the brain and other areas of the body might be and the possibility of the doctor not realizing his mistake in time, the sense of risk becomes even greater than normal. This has been of particular concern with procedures that involve laser surgery equipment. The nature of the machinery involved can potentially do more damage within a short amount of time than less precise surgical tools within that same time frame.
There have been procedures and steps suggested to minimize the chances of these things happening, such as openly marking the areas where the surgery is to take place. Other steps being considered include making sure all records are accurate and updated, as well as taking time prior to making the procedure to make sure all of the information can be corroborated with the patient’s medical history and the pertinent data about the procedure itself. These are just some of the steps that medical boards and hospitals are starting to implement to prevent this problem, but they can only help in prevention cannot fully eliminate the problem. This is because situations of this sort are caused by that which is the bane of engineers and investigators alike: human error.