Wrong-site surgery, quite simply, should never occur. Hospitals have protocols in place, they have safety procedures that doctors have to follow and they have high standards.
Even so, thousands of operations go wrong every year. A doctor operates on the wrong eye or amputates the wrong arm. A lung transplant replaces the wrong lung. These are just a few potential examples out of many cases.
They're devastating. It's a nightmare scenario. The results, often, cannot be fixed. For instance, if doctors need to amputate a left foot and they amputate the right instead, not only can they never fix the damage, but they still have to do the original amputation.
How can you avoid this? While it is not your obligation to do so, as a patient, there are some steps you can take:
1. Bring it up
Don't feel nervous to mention wrong-site surgery to your doctor. Ask them about the safety protocols and the things they do to prevent mistakes. Get them to talk through the process with you. This shows them that you care and it can make them a bit more diligent, knowing that you're paying close attention.
It also doesn't hurt to mention your concerns. Tell the doctor that you've heard some stories that worry you, and you want to make sure nothing goes wrong. A compassionate doctor will work hard to keep those fears from materializing.
2. Mark the site
Before you go in for surgery, clearly mark the site. Some hospitals will have you do this, but you can do it yourself in advance, too. For instance, if you're having surgery on your right leg, take a permanent marker and write your name on that leg. Tell the doctor that you did it. Multiple medical professionals work together with every surgery, and miscommunication happens. You, however, only have one procedure to think about, so you can get it right.
3. Tell the doctor your name and date of birth right before surgery
Some wrong-site accidents happen when doctors mistakenly work on the wrong patient. If you have a common name -- like John Smith or Mary Jones -- the doctor may think you are someone else, and a quick check of your records may not expose the issue. Talking to the doctor and confirming your identity gives them one more chance to catch the mistake, realize something is wrong and take the time to straighten things out.
Again, though, it is not your obligation to prevent surgical errors. When a negligent doctor makes a mistake, you need to know if you have a right to financial compensation to cover your costs.