New Report on Medical Errors: Wrong-Site Surgery

Last year I posted an update on a frightening trend: surgery being performed on the wrong body part, or even on the wrong patient.

Since then, an ophthalmologist here in Portland operated on the wrong eye of a 4-year-old. This should never happen: in 2004, the Joint Commission (the group that certifies health care providers) issued a set of rules to prevent these surgical errors.

These rules were supposed to be mandatory for surgeries, but Kaiser Health News reports “Based on state data, Joint Commission officials estimate that wrong-site surgery occurs 40 times a week in U.S. hospitals and clinics.”

How does this keep happening? While some wrong-site errors inflict no lasting harm—either because they are corrected early or did not involve a major surgery—others are catastrophic.

Although medical mistakes can happen to cautious and prepared surgeons, it is alarming that they continue at this rate despite universal medical protocol in place to prevent these tragedies. Should this be attributed to the culture of silence in the medical community?