Surgery performed on the wrong body location or even on the wrong person makes a frequently bandied-about class of horror story about the medical system, but a new study finds it a "fairly rare" phenomenon, occurring at a rate of one in 113,000 operations ("Cases of 'Wrong-Site Surgery' Are Rare", HealthDayNews/ Forbes.com). Most instances resulted in minor or insignificant temporary harm to patients. Although wrong-site surgeries make great anecdotes for lawyers fighting malpractice reform -- as witness the classic Willie King case -- they can distract attention from more widespread and serious problems in the system:
"You can do 20 redundant checks [for the wrong site] before you have surgery, but is that really worth the amount of effort when this is probably the least common adverse effect that could happen to you?" Kwaan said [lead researcher Dr. Mary Kwaan, of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health].
"It would be better to spend time and energy on more common problems that are dangerous to patients," Kwaan said. These include infections, bleeding and leaving materials like sponges inside the patient, which occurs about one in 10,000 operations, she said.