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How common is wrong-site surgery?

You may, like most people in Iowa, believe that a surgeon would never operate on the wrong area of the body, but it is more common than you might think. Becker’s Healthcare states that doctors in the United States perform up to 50 wrong-site surgeries every week. This unsettling number can be due to many factors, including distractions, verification and booking errors, and a lack of consistency with site marking, but seems to be more common in certain specialties.


Spine surgery is reportedly one of the most likely areas in which doctors make mistakes. When more than 400 spine surgeons were questioned, 50 percent of them reported having performed at least one wrong-site surgery in their years of practice.  Mistakes were most commonly made while performing a single-level lumbar laminotomy.


If you are in need of an operation by a neurosurgeon, you are also more likely to experience a wrong-site surgery. One prestigious hospital experienced three mistakes in brain surgery in less than one year. While all involved different mistakes, including placing a drain on the wrong side of the brain, the errors were each due to neglect. In one case, the nurse realized the doctor was making a mistake but did not speak up. In another incident, the surgeon did not complete a pre-operation checklist and did not realize that he had marked the wrong side of the head on the consent form.


If you break a bone, be aware that orthopedic surgeons are also more likely to make mistakes during surgery. The study found that, out of 1.3 million patients, wrong-site surgeries were performed on 76 patients. This information is intended to educate readers on the frequency of wrong-site surgery only and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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