I recently read a news account of a Tennessee couple that delivered a healthy baby boy at the University Medical Center in Lebanon, Tennessee. While in the hospital, one day after his birth, a nurse encouraged the mother to put her newborn in the nursery so she could get some rest. Later, a nurse entered the room and began talking to the parents about the care the baby would need at home following the the procedure that had just been performed. They were horrified to learn that a doctor had asked for the wrong baby – their baby – and the doctor performed a frenulectomy on their perfect and healthy baby boy. This procedure involved clipping the underneath skin of the baby’s tongue. One of the reasons this procedure is usually done is because the skin under a baby’s tongue is too tight and makes nursing difficult or impossible. This was not the case for their baby. The newborn was nursing and feeding well. The doctor admitted his mistake to the family. Some patients having this procedure may have complications down the road or may need speech therapy.
A recent study found that from 2010 to 2011 in Pennsylvania, wrong-site procedures, which are procedures performed on the wrong body part, wrong patient, wrong side, or the wrong procedure altogether, were reported to have occurred one time for every 63,603 procedures performed. A study reported 84 percent of orthopedic claims involving wrong sites resulted in malpractice monetary awards to the patient.
Operating on the wrong baby, child, or adult is a mistake that should NEVER happen. It is an inexcusable act. There are many steps in place at a hospital or medical facility that should be followed to ensure that procedures or operations are performed on the proper person, at the proper site, but sometimes crucial steps are skipped or overlooked because nurses and/or doctors are too busy, exhausted from working long hours, short on time, or just outright being negligent and reckless. Consent forms should be signed, markings should be made on the body part to be operated on, verbal consent should be made. These are a few steps that are in place to protect the patient from being harmed.
Another event that was recently reported occurred In Mexico. A small child was left blind due to a doctor’s negligence. The child had a tumor in one eye, and the eye and tumor needed to be removed. The child’s other eye was healthy and he had sight in that eye. The doctor was grossly negligent and made the devastating mistake of removing the child’s good eye and leaving the eye with the tumor still intact. In this case the doctor made excuses for his actions and tried to justify his negligence. In a study it was reported 79 percent of eye surgeries involving the wrong eye resulted in monetary awards to the patient because of malpractice on the part of the doctor.
Doctors and nurses should be responsible for providing safe, accurate and proper care, but patients can take additional steps to protect themselves from being the victim of a wrong-site surgery by using these strategies:
- Speak to the surgeon yourself prior to your procedure or surgery to talk about the specific details of the procedure or operation he/she is to perform. Be sure you do this before you are prepped or administered any type of sedative or anesthesia.
- Ask that the surgeon himself mark the surgical site with a permanent marker. In Canada the surgeon is advised to place their initials on the actual incision site. That’s a practice our surgeons should be implementing as well.
- As you are talking with and interacting with the medical staff, your nurses, the anesthesiologist, radiologist, etc., confirm with them that they know exactly which procedure you are having. Don’t assume they know.
- Don’t be afraid to have a candid conversation with the surgeon about procedures the medical facility or hospital has in place to ensure that a medical mistake, such as a wrong-site surgery, does not happen.
- Make sure the medical facility or hospital where you are having a procedure or operation is accredited by The Joint Commission.
- Verify. Verify. Each step of the way, when you move into a new room and talk to new medical staff, verify the procedure and location of the procedure with each person you interact with.
When you are scheduled for an operation or procedure, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The doctors and nurses work for you. It’s your body, your life. Be your own advocate. It is an unfortunate fact that medical malpractice happens too often. If you have questions regarding your rights as a patient, ask for clarity. If you have suffered a medical injury from malpractice, call an experienced medical malpractice attorney and speak to a medical malpractice lawyer about any avenues of recourse you may have against the doctor or hospital.
Tennessee Mom Says Hospital Performed Procedure on Wrong Baby, NBCNews, February 11, 2016