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How can Montana hospitals reduce the risk of wrong-site surgery?

When Montana residents have to undergo surgery for a serious health condition, most understand that doctors can't work miracles. The surgery may not be successful in alleviating the condition at issue. But a patient does have the right to expect that the surgical team will operate on the correct site in the body. Tragically, this does not always happen.

Wrong-site surgery is one of the most catastrophic forms of medical malpractice. The term refers to surgery on the wrong side of the patient or at the wrong location. It also includes surgery on the wrong patient and the performance of the wrong surgical procedure on a patient.

If the wrong-site surgery involves the amputation of a limb or the removal of an organ like the eye, the consequences will be devastating for the patient, in part because it will probably still be necessary to remove the limb or organ that should have been removed in the first place. Thus, instead of being left with one healthy limb or organ, the patient is left with none.

In recent decades hospitals have implemented protocols to prevent wrong-site surgery incidents. There is now a Universal Protocol in place which requires members of the surgical team to verify the correct surgical site and mark it before the procedure. The protocol also requires the team to take a preoperative "time out" to make sure they know the correct site and procedure.

When wrong-site surgery occurs the victim has the right to sue the surgeon and the hospital for medical malpractice. A monetary damage award or settlement can help a victim cope with their worsened medical condition and may compel the hospital to take steps to prevent a similar surgical error in the future.

Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information, "Wrong-Site Surgery: A Preventable Medical Error," Deborah F. Mulloy & Ronda G. Hughes, accessed Sept. 14, 2015

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