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Hospital negligence: Wrong site surgery a focus in Pennsylvania

These blogs are posted on behalf of Hof & Reid LLC, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the firm or its attorneys. The information presented in this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice.

There is good news and bad news about hospital errors in Pennsylvania. First, due to efforts by a state agency called the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PPSA), the latest statistics for wrong site and wrong patient surgeries are about 25 percent lower than when the agency began collecting data in 2004. The bad news, however, is that during the 2011-2012 academic year, there were 47 reports of this form of hospital negligence.

A 92-year-old woman with glaucoma was one of the unlucky ones. She went to the Scheie Eye Institute at the University of Pennsylvania in March 2011, where she underwent surgery only to subsequently learn the surgery had been performed on the wrong eye. Complications followed, and the elderly woman is now said to be legally blind and dependent on her daughters. A medical malpractice lawsuit is pending. Allegedly, both a nurse and the surgeon had marked the incorrect eye as the one needing surgery.

Spurred by the efforts of the PPSA, hospitals are making efforts to further address this area of medical negligence. A series of 21 categories have been identified in a concerted effort to avoid these types of mistakes. Some involve such common sense steps as asking the patient, consulting with colleagues and even holding a formal "timeout" to allow all those in the operating room to discuss the procedure and coordinate efforts to make the operation a success.

It is encouraging that Pennsylvania hospitals are addressing this area of hospital negligence. However, as one noted professor of surgery observed, there are still far too many occasions of medical malpractice attributable to operating on the wrong site or even on the wrong patient. Those patients and families who have been victimized by this form of surgical error have options to them under our state laws. The first best step may be to become fully informed of one's rights under the law and assess the prospects of pursuing a damage claim in a civil proceeding based upon evidence of negligence.

Source: Philly.com, "Pennsylvania hospitals adopt safeguards against preventable surgical errors," Tom Avril, Nov. 13, 2012

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