The Joint Commission and National Quality Forum both consider wrong-site, wrong-procedure, and wrong-patient surgeries to be never events. Despite improvement approaches ranging from the Universal Protocol to nonpayment for the procedures themselves and any consequent care, these serious surgical errors continue to occur. This study measured the incidence of incorrect surgeries in Veterans Health Administration medical centers from 2010 to 2017. Surgical patient safety events resulting in harm were rare and declined by more than two-thirds from 2000 to 2017. Dentistry, ophthalmology, and neurosurgery had the highest incidence of in–operating room adverse events. Root cause analysis revealed that 29% of events could have been prevented with a correctly performed time-out. A WebM&M commentary examined an incident involving a wrong-side surgery.
Following biopsies for two skin lesions on his left cheek, a patient was sent to an outside surgeon for excision of squamous cell carcinoma. Although the referral included a description and diagram, the wrong lesion was removed.
Garnerin P, Arès M, Huchet A, et al. Qual Saf Health Care. 2008;17:454-8.
This study combined implementation of verification protocols with periodic audits and feedback to increase compliance with patient identification in the prevention of wrong-patient and wrong-site surgery. While the process did improve, the authors advocate for technological solutions to address the limitations of purely manual systems. A related commentary [see link below] discusses the broader context of efforts to eliminate wrong-site surgery.
National Priorities Partnership. Washington, DC: National Quality Forum; 2008. ISBN: 1933875194.
This report resulted from a consensus program involving 28 national organizations that sought to outline goals for improving the US health care system and share examples of such efforts in patient safety and other identified areas.
Lee JS, Curley AW, Smith RA, et al. J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2007;65:1793-9.
This article discusses strategies to prevent wrong-site tooth extraction including education, improving referral forms, and standardizing preoperative procedures. A prior AHRQ WebM&M commentary also discussed this topic.
Makary MA, Mukherjee A, Sexton B, et al. J Am Coll Surg. 2007;204:236-43.
Although wrong-site surgeries are rare, they have devastating consequences for patients and are often a harbinger of serious safety problems within an institution. The Joint Commission's Universal Protocol for prevention of wrong-site surgeries requires performing a "time out" before beginning surgery to ensure that all operating room personnel are familiar with the patient, the procedure, their role, and how to respond to complications. In this study, operating room personnel were surveyed regarding their perception of the risk of wrong-site surgery before and after institution of timeouts. Respondents felt teamwork improved and the overall risk for wrong-site surgery decreased after implementing the protocol. An Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) WebM&M commentary discusses the factors contributing to a near-miss wrong-site surgery.
A woman with a fractured right foot receives spinal anesthesia and nearly has surgery for trimalleolar fracture and dislocation of the left ankle. Only immediately prior to surgery did the team realize that the x-ray was not hers.
JCAHO; Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
According to an AHRQ-supported study, wrong-site surgery occurred at a rate of approximately 1 per 113,000 operations between 1985 and 2004. In July 2004, The Joint Commission enacted a Universal Protocol that was developed through expert consensus on principles and steps for preventing wrong-site, wrong-procedure, and wrong-person surgery. The Universal Protocol applies to all accredited hospitals, ambulatory care, and office-based surgery facilities. The protocol requires performing a time out prior to beginning surgery, a practice that has been shown to improve teamwork and decrease the overall risk of wrong-site surgery. This Web site includes a number of resources and facts related to the Universal Protocol. Wrong-site, wrong-procedure, and wrong-patient errors are all now considered never events by the National Quality Forum and sentinel events by The Joint Commission. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have not reimbursed for any costs associated with these surgical errors since 2009.
This AHRQ-supported study analyzed information from nearly 3 million operations between 1985 and 2004, discovering a rate of 1 in 112,994 cases of wrong-site surgery. Investigators further evaluated cases with available medical records, all of which were among the malpractice claims. In doing so, they noted that the Joint Commission's Universal Protocol might have prevented only 62% of the cases reviewed. At the rates reported, the authors suggest that the average large hospital may be involved in such an event every 5 to 10 years, a rate 10 times less frequent than retained foreign bodies. They also point out that while wrong-site surgery is a devastating and unacceptable outcome, current efforts to implement protocols may not prevent every event and may, in turn, create inefficiency in related processes. The authors offer a series of recommendations for a model site-verification protocol. The American College of Surgeons offers a fact sheet on correct-site surgery geared toward patient education.
Please select your preferred way to submit a case. Note that even if you have an account, you can still choose to submit a case as a guest. And if you do choose to submit as a logged-in user, your name will not be publicly associated with the case. Learn more information here.