Wrong-site and wrong-person surgeries, as well as other serious errors, are considered “never events.” This means that had the medical staff and surgeons been properly vigilant, the event would never have occurred. Nevertheless, mistakes happen. The Journal of Neurosurgery in 2010 identified 35 cases of wrong-side craniotomies between 1996 and 2009 that occurred in the United States. It is likely however that additional cases occurred by were likely settled and were not brought to the attention of the state medical licensing boards, news organizations, or the courts.
A medical malpractice lawsuit was filed in April 2013 against a St. Louis hospital and neurosurgeon for allegedly operating on the wrong side of a woman’s skull and brain. According to the complaint, the 53 year old patient, Regina Turner, was supposed to have a “left-sided craniotomy bypass” on April 4th. However, the lawsuit alleges that she received the operation on the right side. Once the mistake was realized, a second surgery was performed just under a week later on the left side of her skull.
Prior to the surgery on the right side of her skull, Turner was a mobile person, cognizant, and capable of taking care of herself. As a result of the surgery, she can no longer speak intelligibly, needs care around the clock for her basic needs. She also continues to suffer from disfigurement, anxiety, emotional distress, and depression.
The lawsuit is asking for punitive damages “sufficient to punish” the hospital and the neurosurgeon for what it considers their “complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of Regina Turner.”
Wrong-site surgeries are devastating, not just to the patient and their family, but to the caregiving team as well since they just made one of the worst mistakes that they could have made. Most of these errors are not necessarily the fault of one specific person but rather a breakdown in the system or the process. Organizations have adopted protocols, such as “timeouts” and checklists in the hopes of preventing errors.
More than rules need to be made. There needs to be sustained training, reminders, and work to make the rules and protocols an accepted way of practicing.
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