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Can West Virginia wrong-site surgeries be prevented?

Charleston, West Virginia, patients have every right to expect doctors to be educated, well-trained, licensed and focused upon providing the highest quality care. Most surgeons live up to these expectations, but doctors are capable of making serious mistakes. Wrong-site surgeries are preventable forms of physician negligence.

Surgeries are cooperative efforts involving facility operators, preoperative medical personnel, operating room staff members and patients. Errors can occur for multiple reasons including a lack of careful planning, miscommunication and surgical carelessness. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, like other specialized medical organizations, recommends doctors apply the rules of Universal Protocol, approved by the Joint Commission, to prevent wrong-site surgeries.

The guidelines aren't working as well as the AAOS had hoped. The organization promotes a "unified effort" in the medical community to reduce surgical mistakes and for the health care providers, curb insurance payments made for wrong-site claims. The AAOS reported 84 percent of wrong-site ortheopaedic surgery claims resulted in payouts, compared to 30 percent of other types of claims.

Many Universal Protocol rules apply at the preoperative level. Standards urge strong pre-surgery communication between doctors and patients; verification of patient identity and associated medical documents, tests and records; certainty of the procedure to be performed and confirmation and marking of the correct surgery site. Checklists and pre-surgery, operating room "time-outs" are used to make sure doctors have full knowledge and proper resources.

The AAOS also instructs surgeons how to behave when a wrong-site surgery occurs. The organization stresses acting in a patient's best interests by taking corrective actions and informing patients and family members about errors. The guidelines address how doctors should respond when mistakes are detected during or after general and local anesthesia surgeries.

Although surgeons are compelled to admit mistakes, some doctors and hospitals try to hide errors. Wrong-site surgery victims may file legal claims to recover compensation for injuries, medical expenses and other losses.

Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, "Wrong-Site Surgery" Dec. 21, 2014

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