If you’ve had surgery in the past 20 years, you’ve probably undergone a ritual where the nursing staff ask your name and date of birth every 3 minutes, the physician comes in and signs whatever part of your body, and you are repeatedly asked what procedure you are undergoing.
It was finally recognized – not all that long ago – that medical providers were operating on the wrong people or parts far too frequently. How frequently? It’s hard to firm up the statistics, but we know that since the 90’s, rates of wrong site surgeries have increased, not decreased. Now this may be due to increased reporting, but the fact that it happens at all is shocking. Medicare has recently labeled this a “never event,” telling facilities that Medicare won’t pay to fix these sort of errors – the facilities will have to absorb the costs.
Proper protocol in nearly every hospital requires not only the proper identification of a surgery site (or body part) but also that a “time out” be performed in the operating room to insure the right person is on the table. Strict checklists are supposed to be sued to make certain this process is followed.
But sometimes the process isn’t followed. The reason? Arrogance. “I know what part I’m operating on.” “I can recognize my own patient.” “This has never been a problem for 20 years.” If those views coincide with a culture in that operating room where nursing staff aren’t allowed to contradict a physician, bad things can happen.
We know that people can make mistakes. We know we are human. The fix for this isn’t to claim otherwise. It is to follow the very clear, easy protocols that are put in place to prevent precisely this sort of event. Every time. Every case. No matter what. Instead, some studies show that the checklists are being complied with as little as 77% of the time – no wonder this is still going on.
In my career, I have represented persons who had the wrong part operated on. Incredibly, one client awoke with the proper part of his body still marked as he had been instructed by nursing staff. Too bad the surgery was done elsewhere.
This June 10 is national “timeout day” organized by nursing organizations. They are encouraging providers to actually follow the protocols and prevent this from happening.
What can you, the patient, do? Studies have shown that one of the most effective techniques is writing NO! on the body part that is NOT undergoing the procedure. Sound silly? A little – but it is simple and effective.
So don’t get annoyed at your nursing staff – their repeated requests for your name and procedure are to protect you. And take a Sharpie with you to the hospital! A big “NO!” on the wrong part can help you be sure your operating team spends their time in the right place.