A new lawsuit alleges that surgeons and a major academic hospital operated on the wrong kidney.
The patient went to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to have a small mesh tube implanted from her left kidney through her urinary system and into her bladder. Instead, the lawsuit says that the doctors implanted it in her right kidney by mistake and ran it through the wrong half of her body.
As a result of this mistake, the patient’s urinary system was so damaged that she’ll need dialysis for the rest of her life, according to the lawsuit. On top of that, she needed to go back to the operating room for a second surgery to remove the hardware from the right side and place new hardware on the correct side, her left.
As a former hospital administrator, it’s really incredible to me that this type of error continues to happen. As surprising as it may seem, according to the hospital accrediting organization The Joint Commission, wrong surgical site errors were the third-most commonly reported sentinel event in 2018.
Many people describe sentinel events as “never events.” I think it would be hard for anyone to argue that operating on the wrong kidney or any incorrect body part should ever happen.
It’s such a serious problem, though, that The Joint Commission made prevention of wrong-site surgeries a national patient safety goal. Now hospitals nationwide have a universal protocol to do a surgical timeout.
In a surgical timeout, all the healthcare providers participating in the surgery should be present at the patient’s bedside in the operating room. When possible, the patient should be kept awake, and not under anesthesia, so she can participate in the timeout. The surgical timeout calls for a few seconds where everyone agrees that they have the correct patient, know the correct procedure or surgery that is about to be performed, and have verified the correct location.
It’s so simple and easy to do a surgical timeout that I think it’s inexcusable when a mistake like this happens. Yet, in just the past year, I handled a medical malpractice case in Houston where a surgeon operated on the wrong patient!
Some patients have understandably taken matters into their own hands, using a marker to circle the correct part of the body for the surgery, and X-out the other side. If I ever have to go to a hospital or surgery center for a procedure, you can bet that I’ll find a red sharpie and do that, too.
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Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2018, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. Also, in 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.