Can patients prevent wrong-site surgery?

A young cancer patient in Portland claims that a doctor operated on the wrong side of her neck, removing healthy lymph nodes and leaving her with a 7-inch scar around her neck. She had to undergo an additional surgery to remove the cancerous lymph nodes, doubly exposing herself to the dangers of surgery and recovery.

In KATU’s investigative interview, the young woman said the doctor admitted the mistake, and attributed the surgical error to a confusing note in her medical records.

“I should have asked to look at the report myself before the first surgery,” she said. “I come from a medical office background, so I feel like if I would have looked at it, I might have caught it.” See the video.

Is it the patient’s responsibility to make sure the doctors review medical records prior to surgery?

Patients should be able to trust that their surgeon will review the medical records prior to surgery, and ask questions if they find any discrepancies – not just guess and cut.

Furthermore, the surgeon is not the only medical provider in the room. There had to be a number of people – doctors, nurses, assistants – who had missed any inaccuracies in her medical records before surgery.

Wrong-site surgeries occur 40 times a week in U.S. hospitals and clinics, according to a Kaiser Health News estimate.

Every hospital and surgical facility is supposed have measures in place to ensure that wrong site surgery never happens, but it is still an all-too-common experience. Several years ago my office represented a woman who went in for surgery on her left knee. As she awoke from the anesthesia, she discovered that the doctor had operated on her right knee instead – despite the charts, pre-surgical procedures, and the clear marking on her left knee.

Report on Medical Errors: Wrong-site surgery