Yesterday Katie Couric on the Today Show reported on surgeries on the wrong body parts.  Though short on statistics, the report was a disturbing reminder of how vulnerable we are when we enter a medical facility for a surgical procedure.

Recent reports in USA Today argue that ‘wrong site’ surgeries are on the rise.   A study of 2.8 million operations over a 20-year period, published in last month’s  Archives of Surgery, show the rate of "wrong site" procedures is 1 in every 113,000 operations. These numbers exclude procedures on the spine, because surgical sites on the spine are verified with X-rays and thus safeguarded against mistake as to the location of surgical site.

The non-profit Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations sets patient safety requirements and guidelines, and inspects more than 15,000 hospitals and surgical centers nationwide. Since 2004, doctors have been required by the joint commission to mark the spot where the surgical incision will occur during a consultation with their patient before surgery. The commission encourages patients to insist on such a mark.

According to the USA Today article Stayin’ Alive, a new study of Medicare patients by HealthGrades, a health care ratings company, found that 1.24 million patient safety incidents occurred in nearly 40 million hospitalizations from 2002 to 2004. Those incidents were associated with 250,000 potentially preventable deaths and $9.3 billion of excess costs. For the second straight year, incidents increased slightly.

Only 23 states have mandatory error-reporting systems, many hospitals where a "wrong site" surgery is performed or similar error occurs simply do not report the incident to any entity. And for those states where reporting is required, standards of measurement aren’t consistent. A nationwide rigorous reporting scheme is needed where the public has access to the reports.

Until regulatory safeguards are in place, you can visit the HealthGrades website to gain helpful information about your hospital or doctor – for most patients, the information will provide peace of mind, but for some it may provide a red flag to seek treatment elsewhere.

Categories: Health Care
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