Saturday, December 15, 2007

Three Errors in Brain Surgeries Highlight Need for Civil Justice System

A recent news report reveals that at one prominent Rhode Island hospital, three different brain surgeries performed by three different surgeons involved surgery on the wrong side of the head. Same hospital. All in one year. Here's a url to the MSNBC report:

The report details how surgeons and nurses failed to comply with safety procedures designed to ensure that surgery is done at the correct site. The regulating agency, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals gets 8 reports a month of wrong-site surgery, but the Commission notes that hospitals are not required to report these incidents. As a consequence, the rate of error from this type of medical mistake is believed to be 10 times higher than the reported rate.

If you think about it, surgery is a fairly intense way to treat a big medical problem. To cure, the surgeon is literally cutting into the human body and removing and restructuring the body. That's a bit obvious, of course, but it's an important concept when thinking about what it means to do surgery at the wrong site. It's another form of unnecessary surgery, and that's no small thing for the patient.

When we undergo surgery, patients literally surrender all control to the doctor and medical staff. We're put under and have no way to gently say, "Excuse me, doctor, but it's the other hip."

The best outcome would be that the surgical team review and re-review the patient's chart to make sure that surgery is being performed where it is needed. Failing that, the patient's only recourse is the civil justice system. This is the only place where ordinary people have the ability to call wrongdoers to account. This is true even when the wrongdoer is rich and powerful.

So next time you hear a politician ranting about the "malpractice crisis" or "frivolous" lawsuits, it might be wise to remember that serious mistakes happen, and the system needs to remain open to address those errors.

David F. Sugerman
Paul & Sugerman, PC

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