Surgical Calamities on Rise

The above headline appeared on the December 6, 2001 issues of the online MSNBC and the Washington Post. According to the Post story author David Brown, “The number of surgical calamities in which a doctor operates on the wrong part of a patient’s Surgical Calamities on Risebody, and occasionally on the wrong patient, appears to be increasing.” This information is according to the organization that accredits U.S. hospitals. The president of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) reports that the number of “wrong-site surgery” has risen from 16 in 1998 to 58 in 2001 including 11 in one month alone.

There is a controversy according to the Commission as to whether or not this report accurately reflects an increase in these problems or just an increase in reporting of such mishaps. If this increase is due to more frequent reporting it would suggest that the problem has been worse than expected for a longer period of time. “I think it’s real,” said Dennis S. O’Leary, a physician who heads JCAHO, which accredits about 95 percent of the hospital beds in the United States. “If you look at the trend line, you see an increase in every single year” since 1995. He goes on to say, “People are busy and patients are being put to sleep before there is an opportunity to verify who the patient is, what procedure is going to be performed and on what site.”

The report revealed that the mistakes include such things as operations on the wrong finger, replacement of the wrong hip joint, fusion of the wrong spinal disk, cataract removal from the wrong eye and biopsy of the wrong side of the brain. JCAHO’s “sentinel event alert” report included three categories of mistake: operations on the wrong body part (76 percent of cases), operations on the wrong patient (13 percent) and the wrong operation on the right patient (11 percent).