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Medical Errors Continue Even in the Best Hospitals

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Authored By: James C. Lewis

It has long been known that medical mistakes that occur in our hospitals resulting in personal injuries frequently go unreported. In a recent investigation by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAHO) this continued problem with medical mistakes was highlighted in a prominent and well know hospital in the northeastern United States with a reputation for excellent neurosurgery and brain surgery, it was determined that in less than one year three patients had the wrong side of their heads operated on.

One of these mistakes was due to a nurse being too bashful to tell the neurosurgeon that he was cutting into the wrong side of the patient’s head. The second related to the fact that the operating room nurse marked the wrong side of the patient’s head prior to surgery. The third was the result of the surgeon failing to note on the preoperative consent form which side of the head he was going to operate on and then forgetting which side was the target of the blood clot surgery.
All of these errors happened despite an explicit set of required operating room precautions adopted by the medical profession a few years ago to prevent this very type of mistake.
“The problem is not going away,” said Peter Angood, Vice President and Chief Patient Safety Officer at the Joint Commission. The mistakes at this hospital suggest that the precautions can still be nullified by the human element-ego and over confidence on the part of surgeons and timidity on the part of nurses too afraid to speak up when they see medical malpractice about to occur.
“There is a big cultural issue in most operating rooms where there is a hierarchical culture there. A surgeon is used to being the captain of the ship and his or her word goes,” said Dianne Rydrych, Assistant Director of the Division of Health Policy at a northeastern health department.
The Joint Commission on the Accreditation on Hospitals (JCAHO) receives about eight reports a months of wrong side surgery, but hospitals are not required to report such mistakes, and Angood said the real number is probably ten times higher.
All of this goes to show that medical mistakes, medical malpractice and errors by doctors, surgeons and nurses continue to be a problem across the country and medical malpractice victims who suffer serious personal injury must continue to seek compensation and redress in our courts.