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The top 3 surgical errors

Going under the knife can leave you feeling anxious and vulnerable. We put a lot of faith and trust into our doctors and surgeons when we allow them to perform invasive procedures, like surgery. While rare, surgical mistakes can and do occur.

The three most common, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Patient Safety Network, are among those that are high-profile errors because they are rare. In fact, they occur between one and 112,000 procedures, which means one hospital would only see such an egregious error every five to 10 years. 

The most common mistakes

1. Wrong site: A wrong site error occurs when a surgeon operates on the wrong side or spot on your body. For example, a surgeon removes your left leg instead of your right. Moreover, operating on the wrong level of the spine is a common error for neurosurgeons.

2. Wrong procedure: A good example of wrong procedure is when a surgeon is set to perform a lumpectomy but performs a mastectomy instead.

3. Wrong patient: In few cases, especially when two patients have similar names, surgeons have operated on the wrong person. The best example of this would be a patient undergoing a heart surgery meant for someone else.

Sentinel events are rare

The Joint Commission, which certifies and accredits hospitals and other health care facilities throughout the United States, considers these errors as sentinel events. A sentinel event is defined as an "unexpected occurrence" that causes a death or serious injury, whether physical or mental. Additionally, the name is given because this type of event requires an immediate investigation into how and why the error occurred and how it will be remedied.

Many efforts have been made to avoid such mistakes, some of which include having the patient sign the spot to be worked on; taking a "time out" in order to allow more communication between the surgical team; and safety checklists. Despite these efforts, however, human error still occurs.

Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to sue your doctor or hospital for medical malpractice. A knowledgeable and experienced malpractice attorney will be able to help you determine if that is the right course of action for you.

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