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Have guidelines helped the national rate of wrong-site surgeries?

A wrong-site surgery is a type of surgical error in which a surgeon either accidentally operates on a healthy body part or negligently operates on the wrong patient. These errors seem far-fetched and rare, but there is a report out of Chicago that wrong-site surgeries happen approximately 40 times per week across the country.

These types of surgical errors have been addressed previously. The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare examines hospitals and health care facilities in order to determine if they are following protocols. If the Commission is satisfied that these universal surgery protocols are being followed, it will accredit the hospital. Thus far, the Commission has accredited over 19,000 facilities across the country.

So what are these procedures and why is the rate of wrong-site surgery still so high? One procedure is to mark the correct body part with a marker prior to surgery. While this should decrease the number of surgical errors, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that some hospitals use markers with washable ink. When the patient is being prepared for surgery, the ink washes away and the risk of a wrong-site surgery is increased.

The Commission has also recommended that everyone take a brief timeout before the surgery starts double check what procedure will be done and make sure that it will be done on the correct patient. The Commission says, however, that not all surgeons and surgery support staff fully participate in the time out process, increasing the risk to patients.

Overall, the Commission found 29 specific places in which hospitals and surgeons are allowing errors in the process. The Commission believes these areas are a cause of the high rate of wrong-site surgeries.

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