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Concerns about surgeons operating on the wrong part of the body made headlines recently after a Rhode Island newspaper reported that on three separate occasions this year, surgeons at one hospital operated on the wrong side of a patient’s head. The most recent case happened when the chief resident started to cut on the head of an 82-year-old patient. The resident, a doctor in the seventh year of specialty training, realized the error before reaching the skull and closed the wound with a single stitch. The procedure was done on the correct side, “with good results,” according to a statement from the hospital, which was fined $50,000 by the state health department.

On a percentage basis, surgery on the wrong side or area of the body is considered rare. But nonetheless, it affects hundreds of people a year, and hundreds more cases likely go unreported. This month, the Archives of Surgery ran a letter from The Joint Commission, the primary accrediting agency for hospitals in the United States, noting that it receives about nine voluntary reports per month of so-called “wrong-site adverse events” to its Sentinel Event Database. Last September, the same medical journal reported that wrong-site surgery may be underreported by a factor of 20. That study concluded that there are 1,300 to 2,700 wrong-site procedures annually in the United States.

Many mistakes involve near misses, like the recent case in Rhode Island, where the surgeon starts to cut but realizes the mistake before real damage is done. Sometimes the mistake has dire consequences. In one widely publicized Florida case a few years ago, a series of mistakes by medical staff resulted in a doctor amputating the wrong leg. British doctors in 2002 were tried and acquitted for manslaughter when a patient died after they removed the wrong kidney.

If you or a loved one has suffered due to medical malpractice in Mobile or anywhere in Alabama, please contact the medical malpractice attorneys at Long & Long, Attorneys at Law today to schedule your confidential consultation.

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