Surgical Errors: Advocacy Insights
Advocacy Series: Surgical Errors

Advocacy Series: Surgical Errors

Peter Olszewski
Peter Olszewski

In this series we show you the importance of being your own advocate when it comes to your health and the many ways you can prevent common medical errors.

Why should you take charge?

Medical errors are considered the third leading cause of death in the United States. The American Association for Justice estimates that 440,000 errors resulting in death occur each year. We’ve learned a thing or two after handling medical malpractice cases for more than 30 years. We’ve learned that while medicine is complex, errors often can be prevented in simple, common sense ways. When you take charge of your own medical information you can actually decrease the odds it will happen to you.

Advocacy Series Highlight- Surgical Errors

Surgical errors are the most notorious type of medical error because they often have devastating consequences. Prior to surgery the surgeon is required by law to personally explain the risks, benefits and viable alternatives to surgery. This is your opportunity to ask how often surgical complications occur generally and with your particular surgeon. It is also important to ask how your surgeon will deal with each complication if one does occur. It may surprise you to know that your surgeon may permit a resident surgeon to take over your surgery or finish your surgery. You are entitled to ask and should ask your surgeon if he or she will be performing the entire procedure. Here are some good questions to ask your surgeon:

  • What are the risks of my surgery?
  • How often do complications occur?
  • How many of these complications have you had?
  • How many times in the past have you done this surgery?
  • If I have a complication, what can I expect?
  • Are there viable alternatives to my surgery?
  • Will you be performing my entire surgery?

How can I possibly lessen my risk of a surgical error?

Asking the above questions is an important part of the surgeon patient relationship. Making sure some additional “basics” are covered such as confirming the type of surgery you agreed to and confirming the correct site of the surgery are also very important. This is because wrong site, wrong procedure and wrong patient surgical errors are known to occur. They are called WSPEs ( wrong-site, wrong-procedure, wrong-patient errors). Here are some examples:

  • Performing the right surgery on the wrong side, such as removing the left kidney instead of the right.
  • Performing the wrong surgery, such as surgery on the wrong portion of the spinal cord.
  • Performing the right surgery on the wrong patient, such as confusing two surgical patients with similar names or medical histories.

How else can I protect myself as a patient?

Communicate! These errors occur because of communication failures among hospital staff during the pre-op process. If you are about to undergo surgery, ask questions and make sure your surgical team knows what specific procedure you’re having done. Read the consent forms and other paperwork describing your procedure. If you see any confusing or seemingly-incorrect language, alert your health care providers.

What do I do if I think I am a victim of a surgical error?

The above preventable surgical errors should never happen, plain and simple. Healthcare professionals have worked extensively to create protocols to eliminate these instances. If you have suffered from a surgical error, call us today to discuss your injuries and how we can help.

Sites referenced:
Wrong-Site, Wrong-Procedure, and Wrong-Patient Surgery
Current issues in patient safety in surgery: a review
Surgical Errors

Peter Olszewski
Peter Olszewski

Peter Paul Olszewski, Jr., a shareholder and managing partner at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C., brings 37 years of litigation experience. He is a renowned trial lawyer in Pennsylvania, specializing in medical malpractice, personal injury, and criminal defense. Peter's notable achievements include securing multi-million-dollar verdicts and serving as District Attorney and Judge. He is committed to community involvement and is actively engaged in various legal associations.
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