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Patient Tips To Avoid Wrong Site Surgery

Earlier this week, in the post Medical Malpractice, Dead By Mistake, And Wrong-Site Surgery, I promised patient tips for avoiding wrong-site surgeries. I’m carrying out on that promise today. Here are some things that surgical patients can do to avoiid wrong-site surgery:

1. Make sure you know what surgeon is in charge, and communicate with your physician. Most wrong-site surgeries are the result of poor communication.

2. Speak up if you have concerns. It is basic psychology that people are hesitant to question authority figures, such as doctors. But patients and nurses must be willing to question physicians when the patients or nurses have concerns. If something doesn’t look or feel right to you, speak up. We were all told in school that there are no stupid questions. That’s particularly true when your health is on the line.

3. Be patient with the staff. Don’t be upset if each doctor and each nurse ask the same information. A standard protocol requires each staff member to confirm the proper procedure is being done.

4. Pre-mark the spot. If you’re going to have surgery on your right knee, take a permanent marker the night before and mark “NO” on your left knee. You might think this is silly, but a simple Google search turns up studies from physicians trying to pass the blame for wrong-site surgeries on to patients for not properly marking which limb or body part to avoid.

5. Participate in the staff’s marking of the proper site the day of surgery. Make sure that the site is marked before you undergo the anesthesia.

6. Have someone you trust there to be your advocate, and make sure they know which procedure is supposed to be done. Several years ago I had knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. Apparently, I’m susceptible to anesthesia, and I was quickly getting loopy after the first round of anesthesia was administered. Even after that, the hospital staff was trying to have me sign papers. Fortunately, my wife was there to tell them I was in no position to sign documents and to make sure that they continued prepping me for the proper surgery.

Hopefully, you or your loved ones won’t need any surgical procedures, but following these simple steps could help prevent an avoidable medical error.

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