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Measure Twice, Cut Once

Have you every wondered why it is that before performing surgery on your arm, leg or foot, the surgeon or nurse will mark the surgical site with an “X?”  The reason is simply this:

In 1998, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization (JACHO) in an advisory warning to all hospitals throughout the country – strongly recommended all hospitals implement mandatory surgical site marking policies and procedures to prevent wrong site surgeries. 

Despite widespread publicity regarding the need for mandatory surgical site marking policies and procedures, wrong site surgeries continue to occur an estimated 40 times a week in the United States.  Wrong site surgeries typically occur when surgeons and hospitals either do not have in place proper surgical site marking policies and procedures and/or do not follow those surgical site policies and procedures.

Our firm has handled a number of such cases. In one such case, our 58 year old client was supposed to undergo a fusion on his left ankle but as a result of the hospital in failing to have in place a surgical site marking procedure, the client's normal right ankle was incorrectly fused, which resulted in significant additional surgeries and disabilities.  Although the hospital claimed it was not “required” to have a surgical site marking policy, the jury disagreed and awarded our client over $2 million in compensatory damages.

In another case, a 60 year old woman was scheduled to undergo vascular bypass surgery on her left leg.  As a result of the surgeon and the nursing staff failing to follow the hospital's wrong site surgery procedure, the vascular bypass surgery was performed on the wrong leg. The patient then developed complications from that wrong site vascular bypass surgery, which ultimately resulted in amputation of her leg above her knee. We were ultimately able to reach a confidential settlement with the hospital and the surgeon on behalf of our client. However, our client would have traded any amount of money to have back her healthy leg.

The lesson to be learned is certain that if you or a loved one is going to undergo surgery on an arm, leg or foot, make sure that the correct surgical site is well marked. Certainly, the responsibility for ensuring that surgery is performed on the correct site is the legal responsibility of the patient's treating physicians, nurses and hospital. However, in this day and age of overbooked and rushed medical care, the patient can never be too careful and vigilant.