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Medical Malpractice, Wrong Site Surgery And The Universal Protocol

By Author: R. Klettke
Total Articles: 49

Cases of surgeons operating on the wrong leg, or removing a healthy kidney instead of the diseased one, or even performing the wrong operation on a patient are unfortunately all too common. Medical malpractice lawsuits, filed against surgeons and medical care professions by personal injury attorney who specialize in these types of cases are also, unfortunately, all too common.

The unacceptable and continuing occurrence of such wrong site surgeries and resulting medical malpractice lawsuits was the genesis of the “Universal Protocol.” This Protocol, geared toward preventing wrong site surgeries, was developed at a national summit of the Joint Commission, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American College of Surgery.

The Joint Commission approved the Universal Protocol for Preventing Wrong Site, Wrong Procedure and Wrong Person Surgery™ in July 2003. It went into effect the next year on July 1, 2004 and applied to all accredited hospitals, ambulatory care and office-based surgery facilities.

The Universal Protocol was later revised in 2010. The revisions were made in response to organizations that requested some flexibility within the Protocol, according to the diversity of their facilities.

There are three steps of the Universal Protocol. They are: pre-procedure verification, site marking, and a time out. Highlights of the Universal Protocol are as follows:

The Pre-Procedure Verification Tasks

• Check for missing patient information or discrepancies in information

• Verify the correct procedure, for the correct patient, at the correct site

• Involve the patient in the verification process, when possible

• Identify items needed for the surgery such as properly displayed and labeled diagnostic and radiology test results, pathology reports, biopsy reports, blood products, implants, devices, etc.

Marking the Procedure Site

• Mark the site when there is more than one possible location for the procedure and if performing the procedure in a different location could injure the patient

• If possible, involve the patient in the site marking process

• The mark must be sufficiently permanent to be visible after skin preparation and draping.

Performing the Time Out

• The procedure is not started until all questions or concerns are resolved

• The time-out is conducted immediately before starting the surgery

• The time-out involves the individual performing the procedure, anesthesia providers, circulating nurse, operating room technician, and other active participants who will be participating in the procedure from the beginning

• During the time-out, the team members agree, on the correct patient identity, correct site, and which procedure is to be done

• When the same patient has two or more procedures and the person performing the procedure changes, another time-out needs to be performed before starting each procedure.

Patient (as well as professional) awareness of the Universal Protocol can help reduce the incidence of wrong site surgery and their accompanying medical malpractice lawsuits. A victim of wrong site surgery has the legal right to contact a medical malpractice attorney and to seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and suffering.

R. Klettke is a freelance writer. He writes about personal injury and medical malpractice law and other matters of jurisprudence.

Important Advisory: This article is not intended to provide legal advice upon which you or anyone else should rely in making any decisions regarding the instituting or prosecuting of a legal claim. Laws and rules relating to the bringing of a claim vary widely from state to state. You should always contact a personal injury attorney to obtain information as to the rules and the laws pertaining to any claim you might have.

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