Surgery Mix-Ups Surprisingly Common - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Surgery Mix-Ups Surprisingly Common

HEALTH.COM - Unthinkable errors by doctors and surgeons -- such as amputating the wrong leg or removing organs from the wrong patient -- occur more frequently than previously believed, a new study suggests.

Over a period of 6.5 years, doctors in Colorado alone operated on the wrong patient at least 25 times and on the wrong part of the body in another 107 patients, according to the study, which appears in the Archives of Surgery.

So-called wrong-patient and wrong-site procedures accounted for about 0.5 percent of all medical mistakes analyzed in the study. Although these serious errors are rare overall, the numbers seen in the study are "considerably higher" than previous estimates, researchers say.

Health.com: Medical mistakes are more common than you think

In fact, the surgical blunders reported in the study are probably "the tip of the iceberg," says the lead researcher, Dr. Philip Stahel, M.D., a surgeon at Denver Health Medical Center. The actual number of patient and site mix-ups is likely much higher, says Stahel, describing those mistakes as "a catastrophe."

Catastrophic surgical errors are "a lot more common than the public thinks," says Dr. Martin Makary, M.D., a professor of surgery and public health at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.

"Each hospital, whether they publicly admit it or not, and whether or not it's discoverable in a lawsuit, has an episode of wrong-site or wrong-patient surgery either every year or once every few years," says Makary, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. "Almost every surgeon has seen one."

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