Developing Safety Protocols to Reduce Preventable Medical Errors

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A New York man is suing a New York hospital and doctor for neglecting to remove his appendix during a 2013 surgery, according to an NBC NY report. William McCormack filed a medical malpractice claim against LawrenceMedicalCenter in Bronxville and the doctor who was supposed to have removed the organ.

According to the lawsuit, McCormack was admitted to the hospital in January 2013 for stomach pains and was told he needed an appendectomy. He went under the knife and believed the procedure to have been a success, until he began having symptoms of appendicitis again in March.

That’s when doctors at AdirondackMedicalCenter found that he still had an enlarged appendix and needed to operate again.

McCormack’s lawyer told media outlets that operative reports signed by the surgeon claimed the appendix was successfully removed. But pathology reports state that they only received a yellowish mass for analysis, not the appendix at all.

Wrong-Organ Errors Happen More Frequently Than Previously Thought

Years ago, the Institute of Medicine completed a landmark report estimating that 98,000 people die each year as a result of preventable medical errors. A more recent study published in the Journal of Patient Safety estimates that the number could be as high as 440,000 per year.

There are a variety of reasons why wrong-site surgeries and wrong-organ surgeries happen, but most can be traced to miscommunication among the medical team. Incorrect operations may be the result of mixing up patient charts, imagery and X-rays or biopsy samples. These are what some researchers call “never events” – preventable errors that should not occur under any circumstances.

Examples include operating on the wrong side of the body, leaving sponges or other surgical tools inside the body after closing the incision and wrong-organ removal. In some cases, the repercussions of such errors could lead to serious health complications and lifelong, chronic health conditions that require additional surgeries and continuous treatment.

There are no guarantees that a surgery will go as planned. There is always the risk for infection or unexpected outcomes, and any good physician will tell you that before performing a procedure on you. But the key point about never events is that they are entirely preventable.

Efforts to Prevent Surgical Errors Are Underway

Medical groups have been seeking to identify a series of best practices that can lessen the likelihood of medical mistakes. One campaign from the AmericanAcademy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) is the “Sign Your Site” effort, which urges physicians to initial the correct side of the body with confirmation from the patient before picking up the knife.

In 2003, the Joint Commission developed the Universal Protocol – a systematic procedure that involves patient verification, site marking and a medical team timeout before beginning any operation. During the timeout, the surgical team performs a last set of checks to ensure that they are operating on the right patient, correct side and performing the correct procedure. While groups like AAOS report that the Universal Protocol is effective, they also acknowledge that the steps are not being implemented across the board among health-care providers.

Legal Options for Victims of Medical Malpractice

People who have suffered injuries due to medical errors and surgical mistakes may be entitled to compensation under their state’s medical malpractice laws.

In Georgia, in general, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice actions is two years from the date of the malpractice. There are some circumstances in which the limitation may be extended. However, Georgia also has a statute of repose and abrogation, which prohibits any malpractice action from being brought more than five years after the negligent act was discovered.   The exact date when a particular claim may expire depends on multiple factors, and a precise determination requires careful study of the medical records.

Victims in medical malpractice cases may be eligible for compensation. To evaluate whether you or a loved one may have a claim, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

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