Citing an increase in surgeries on the wrong body parts or even the wrong patients, a hospital accrediting agency is urging patients themselves to make sure the doctor marks in ink on the body the correct site before the operation.
Dr. Dennis O'Leary, president of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which evaluates and accredits hospitals and health care groups, said it issued a similar warning three years ago. Since then, the number of operations on the wrong site has increased, he said in a news conference Wednesday.
The commission's database includes more than 150 such cases reported since 1996. "These numbers are soft and are probably grossly underreported," O'Leary said.
"In the year we issued our first alert we had 16 cases; this year, we have 58, and the number has grown each year."
He said 76 percent of the mistakes involved operating on the wrong body part, 13 percent involved surgery on the wrong patient and 11 percent involved the wrong surgical procedure.
The joint commission, along with the American College of Surgeons, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Medical Association, also called on doctors and nurses to orally confirm in the operating room that they have the correct patient, the correct surgical site and the correct procedure before beginning the operation.
And, they said, the surgical team should take a "time out" to double check information about the procedure, check charts and corroborate information with the patient.
In January, the New York State Department of Health issued similar guidelines.
The stress of doing too many operations, no fail-safe system and a lack of communication among members of the surgical team cause these kinds of mistakes, said Dr. Thomas Russell of the American College of Surgeons.
Although these mistakes are preventable, one expert said it appeared harder to change practices of surgical teams than was initially thought. Dr. Terry Canale, immediate past president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, said.
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