Part IV - Wrong-Site Surgeries, the Surgical Facility

This blog is the fourth in a multi-part series addressing the concerns faced by patients who experience a wrong-site, wrong-procedure, and/or wrong-patient surgery. It also addresses many of the initial questions encountered by their attorneys. This series is directed to surgeons who want to learn and be aware of why these mistakes continue to occur, some of whom believe that surgical mistakes of this nature would never happen to them.  It can and does because as the medical student admits his studies indicate less than fifty percent of surgeons actually use the time-out.

As revealed in the previous blogs in this series, there is an abundance of information that can be obtained by accessing a particular medical care provider’s website and then digging through it with a fine-toothed comb. Lots of the information found on a medical provider’s website can be saved to your computer and archived to be used as evidence in a later malpractice lawsuit or to settle the claim.

Remember that surgery centers may be owned by a hospital system, privately owned, county owned or owned by the state.  In Iowa they may be owned by a municipality in which case different rules may apply concerning the statute of limitations. Don’t be lazy or complacent when it comes to these cases.

Among the information that can often be found on a medical service provider’s website is a statement of ownership. This statement often includes such information as who is the owner of the medical center as well as what other businesses it is affiliated with. Sometimes this statement also includes memberships, certifications, and accreditations, which can be useful information when looking for rules and procedures that the medical center’s staff must follow during specific procedures.

Other information that can also be found within the medical service provider’s website are a list of surgical procedures performed at the center and a list of the patient’s rights. It will list the surgeons and what procedures they are qualified to perform. It may also have forms surgeons need to download, fill out and submit to gain privileges at the surgical center.  Contact for the administrator will certainly be listed.  Probably you’ll have to contact the administrator to decipher the names of the surgical team.

Lastly each and every surgery center must be accredited in some fashion. That means the center will adopt as part of its surgical protocol rules of the accrediting organization. After finding out which organization accredits the facility, go to the website for the accrediting organization and search for the rules that create the correct protocol for that institution. Many physicians have partial ownership in the facility either directly or indirectly. The Secretary of State’s website can provide valuable ownership information or a contact that can advise about ownership. When it comes to patient safety don’t just assume you and the owners aren’t on the same page. More than likely you are. The facilities reputation is on the line and they want to protect that reputation. Chances are your client’s claim will not be taken lightly by the facility. The doctor may be angry and fail to act professionally, which doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is angry with you or the patient. They are more than likely angry with themselves for making such a bone-headed mistake.

I’ve had doctors react both ways, angry and conciliatory. I’ve had partners of the doctor apologize to the patient at depositions.  Some doctors will readily admit their mistake, while others will blame the surgical staff or the patient. While I can understand blaming the staff, blaming the patient seems like an odd reaction.  Staff should all be aware of the surgical site, the procedure and the patient’s identity from a thorough reading of the chart. If the patient indicates one side and the chart says another the surgery should not precede without confirmation of what information is correct. Blaming the patient without having stopped to review the chart and talking with a relative will impress no one, let alone shield you from legal responsibility.

Likewise performing an incorrect procedure makes it appear the surgeon did not review the chart before starting the surgery. Any questions should be resolved first, rather than later. I carpentry they say measure twice and cut once. In surgery they should say, ask three times and cut once.

Preserving the information found on a medical service provider’s website can often be the crucial piece of evidence that becomes the deciding factor in a medical malpractice case. So go online to gather and preserve evidence. Evidence of the website being changed may be as valuable as or more valuable than if it stays static. Visit the site again and again to see if it’s changing. It may and you should know about it. ©


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