Surgical errors and other doctor mistakes are all too common

For patients who must undergo surgery in North Carolina, the last thing they want to worry about is the surgeon getting it wrong. The thought of a doctor taking out the wrong kidney or amputating the wrong arm is terrifying, but it does happen.

Kaiser Health News reports these instances in recent years:

  • A preschooler had the wrong eye operated on in Oregon.
  • Three patients over a period of two months underwent wrong-site spinal operations in a Boston hospital.
  • Five patients received wrong-site surgeries in a Rhode Island medical center, prompting the state to order the installation of video cameras in the center’s operating rooms.

The medical community has responded to these events by developing procedures meant to serve as a system of checks and balances. However, the mistakes continue to be made.

The national hospital accreditation group, known as the Joint Commission, initiated reporting procedures for these instances, but reporting is spotty. Based on the data it does receive from individual state reporting, the commission estimates the occurrence of wrong-site surgeries is 40 times a week across all clinics and hospitals in the U.S.

That number is a total of all instances nationwide, not meant to represent any individual state, health care system or hospital. That number also includes instances in which the wrong procedure is performed on the patient, as well as when a procedure is performed on the wrong person. 

In North Carolina, the state medical board meets quarterly to review complaints, initiate investigations and take disciplinary action, if needed, against physicians across the state. A summary of the board’s actions from August through October of 2015 includes license suspensions for alcohol and substance abuse and a reprimand of a surgeon for striking a patient.

Additionally, the board issued “public letters of concern” to medical personnel for using controlled substances for personal pain management, prescribing controlled substances to family members (in one case for several years) and a wrong-site surgery on a patient’s right thumb instead of the index finger.  

It is unknown whether these board actions are tied to any wrong-site surgery or treatment (except for the specific instance noted above). But these cases show that physicians, like everyone else, make mistakes.

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