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Brain Surgery on the Wrong Side of Patient’s Head

Not once, not twice, but three times in one year doctors at Rhode Island Hospital performed brain surgery on the wrong side of a patient’s head. The first patient apparently was uninjured from surgery performed to the incorrect side of the brain, but the second patient was not so fortunate. Just six months after the first instance, the same mistake occurred, this time resulting in the patient’s death several weeks after surgery. After the second incident, the State of Rhode Island required the hospital to have better oversight of its neurosurgeons and their intended surgeries. Notwithstanding these requirements on the hospital, the same mistake happened for a third time just three months later. In the most recent instance, the hospital again reports that the patient is doing well.

Each instance involved a different physician, with the most recent case arising from surgery begun by a resident physician (doctor in training). The hospital, which is a teaching hospital for Brown University, was fined $50,000 by the State of Rhode Island. The hospital has now reported that it is reviewing its policies and training programs and granting nurses greater authority to confirm that safety precautions are followed.

Unfortunately, surgery on an incorrect body part happens far too frequently in the United States. Prior to surgery, it is a good practice for patients and families to ensure that there is a mark on the specific body part being operated on. Many surgeons will make an “X” on a leg or the abdomen to indicate clearly to all in the operating room which body part is to be cut open. Patients and families can do the same thing and mark the correct arm or side with an “X” and remind the doctors and nurses of this fact. Hospitals need to adopt better procedures to ensure these types of accidents NEVER occur.