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November 3rd, 2009
12:24 PM ET

1:30ET: When Docs Screw Up

Elizabeth Cohen joins us live, to talk about a Rhode Island hospital that's in trouble AGAIN for "wrong-site surgery".

In the meantime, some info from our medical unit:

By Sharisse Scineaux
CNN Medical Producer

Hospitals and doctors make mistakes. It's something we don't like to think about, but it happens. Some scary examples I've come across: Minnesota doctors removed the healthy kidney of a cancer patient while leaving the diseased one behind; California doctors removed the appendix of the wrong patient; one of the most experienced surgeons in a Boston, Massachusetts, hospital operated on the wrong side of a patient. All of these mistakes happened within the past couple of years.

Rest assured, if you are the patient, you can help avoid such medical errors.

1. Check out your doctor and hopsital. There are several websites that rank hospitals and physicians.

2. Tell the nurses and doctors who you are and why you're having surgery. You might feel a little silly, but giving your name, date of birth and for example, which hip you're having replaced – it bears repeating.

3. Make sure your doctor – not someone else – initials your surgery site.

4. Confirm that site with your physician right before your procedure.

5. Finally, train someone to be your advocate. You're likely to be anxious and a little out of it, so be sure that friend or family member knows these important tips too.

Check out CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen’s Empowered Patient column here, for more useful details.

And, if you'd like to check up on a hospital or doctor, HealthGrades and The Leapfrog Group are a couple of helpful websites.

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Filed under: Kyra Phillips • On TV
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. DivaDawnMelanie

    All that $ docs make, you think they'd demonstrate more professional savy and care.

    November 3, 2009 at 1:08 pm |
  2. Tony - Lafayette, LA

    Oh, yeah...the only health care reform America needs is limiting malpractice payouts.

    November 3, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  3. Patty A Banks

    Thank God no medical mistakes, but i'm afraid if Im a pain in the neck, the doc might cut off both the yes & no knees!

    November 3, 2009 at 1:40 pm |
  4. Brandy Sanders

    I recently had back surgery to remove some bad discs, and the surgeon who performed the surgery tore my spinal cord causing a massive cerebral spinal fluid leak. He then failed to disclose the mistake to me. His P.A. was the one who let it "slip" 6 MONTHS LATER!!! In addition to his "mistake", the result of the surgery is me in a wheelchair from a myriad of spinal conditions, one of which arachnoiditis, is incurable. And he was NEVER reprimanded although I tried pursuing him legally. Now at 30 years old, I am in a wheelchair, trying to financially take care of 2 little boys with no source of income, simply because this "mistake" was supposedly "an acceptable risk". This doctor has never apologized to me for what happened and I am pretty sure I was never supposed to find out. Just because he is an associate professor of neurosurgery for one of the largest hospital systems in Georgia, does that make him untouchable.

    November 3, 2009 at 1:42 pm |
  5. Thomas Holst

    When I had nerve surgery on my right elbow a few years back, the prep. nurse questioned me thoroughly as to my identity and the nature of the surgery, then wrote "NO" in big letters on my left elbow. It gave me confidence in their procedures and all went well.

    November 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  6. Bill Thwaites

    Your advocate should stay with you, especially when you are recovering from anesthesia. My wife saved my life when she noticed that my blood pressure was dropping. The nurses in the ward I was assigned to were used to watching EKG's, not blood pressure monitors.

    November 3, 2009 at 1:46 pm |
  7. Brandy Sanders- Atlanta, Ga

    In addition to the bad discs he was supposed to remove, there was one bulging disc left behind. Where is the justice for those who can't afford adequate health care. The aftercare this doctor gave me was horrendous. Not returning phone calls, brushing my concerns aside, and keeping vital, crucial information as to my health to himself. He swept me under the rug and got away with it, now I have to live with this pain and suffering for the rest of my life. The surgery was 2 years ago.

    November 3, 2009 at 1:47 pm |
  8. jane lyon

    my husband had knee surgery in 1978. post op he was put in a cast while still under anesthesia which was then sawed open lengthwise so they could access incision if necessary. they did not shield his face and his face and eyes were splattered with wet plaster. upon awakening he was in extreme pain in the eyes, not even concerned with knee, an opthalmic surgeon was called in 6-8 hours later after being told you'll be fine during that time. his 3-5 day hospital stay turned into 9 days with scratches and burns to his eyes. both eyes had to be patched for four days. he was freaking that he would be blind. we did not sue because we would have had to name his knee surgeon as primary and it wasn't his fault. a meeting with hospital administrator and no bills relating to the eyes were charged to us or our insurance company. 31 years ago.

    November 3, 2009 at 1:52 pm |
  9. Carole Miller

    Suburban Hospital, Bethesda, MD. Two mistakes in TWO separate visits to Suburban Hospital.
    First Mistake: I had surgery on my wrist and thumb. They gave me an IV that was bacteria laden and had been recalled by the FDA several days prior to my surgery but not removed from inventory. My hand blew up with red whelts and healing took twice as long. They were Nasty about it and told me "it was No One's job to monitor the Recall of Drugs." An extremely rude and threatening doctor/lawyer type replied to my letter of concern. It was a terrible experience. BUT...
    The second Mistake, a year later.. Same Hospital! While admitted, I was given 2 blood TRANSFUSIONS that my roommate should have gotten, not me! I did everything I could to inquire Why I needed a transfusion, including asking for the doctor who ordered the transfusion to come to see me. Instead, that staff doctor phoned and vehemently told me "Because I NEEDED them" (condenscending of course). A day later, a private doctor summoned at my request, took one look at my records and realized the transfusions were meant for my roommate who had colon cancer. He verified it at the nursing station immediately. Again, Suburban Hospital tried to cover it up and immediately released me. But my "roommate" overheard what they said about handling "the situation" ...and once again, the same "Bull Dog doctor/lawyer" called me ( in reply to my letter of concerns) with a very intimidating tone of voice. He was downright rude and has a threatening demeanor (Clearly trying to put the Fear of God into me for THEIR Mistakes.) I say 2 mistakes in two visits a year apart is frightening. I hope I don't have to go there ever again!!! (unfortunately, it's the closest hospital and I have no choice in an emergency).

    November 3, 2009 at 1:54 pm |
  10. larry gibbons

    in 2001 i went in the hospital to have my leg amputated, they put a x on the leg that was to be cut off. i asked why they did that, the surgon staff told me that a few years earlier they hat cut the the wrong leg off a man. go figure go in surgery lossing one leg and come out with no legs that poor man. larry

    November 3, 2009 at 1:54 pm |
  11. Jan RN in GA

    It is the circulating nurse's responsibility to call a "time out" before sugery begins on a patient. This is when all in the OR take a moment to review the surgical procedure to be performed on that patient. In my personal experience as a circulating nurse surgeons repeatedly ridicule nurses (myself included) during case after case, day after day for doing this. And you wonder why so many nurses are leaving the hospitals and/or healthcare all together?

    November 3, 2009 at 1:59 pm |
  12. Michelle Bunch RNFA,BSN,CNOR

    I am a registered nurse who has been practicing in the operating room for over 10 years. I would like to correct your suggestion about insisting on speaking with the surgeon only to prevent wrong site surgery.What most patients fail to realize is the RN is their advocate.It's our job to ensure that;
    1.The surgical site is marked with the surgeons initials UNLESS it is a procedure not involving a particular side or it is assumed that one or both sides will be operated on i.g. (coronary artery bypass surgery may utilize one or both mammary arteries, right or left, saphenous vein grafts, right or left or radial arteries, right or left.
    2. It is the RN responsibility to ensure that you, the patient, understands fully the procedure to take place and if you have questions, or he/she feels that you are not fully informed, THEN the RN will notify the surgeon to discuss your case and ensure that you are fully informed before going back to the operating room
    If your nurse does not ask the appropriate questions such as your explanation of the surgery to be performed and who is performing the procedure, and which side if there is one- then it is within your patient rights to question the nurse and ask why they are not making sure you are fully informed.
    Another issue that bothers me professionally is the "time out" that we perform after our patient is asleep, one last final check before the knife drops. It has been my experience that all persons in the room do NOT stop what they are doing and listen and concur even with repeated attempts of saying the patient name, procedure, site and allergies, antibiotics if any. Are they're any other OR nurses out there experiencing the same problem. This is for our patients safety. Most patients do not know about this step but it is an important one.We ask if the proper films/xrays are available, correct site/side/procedure. I believe that wrong site surgeries could be prevented if the surgeons and surgical staff took this step more seriously and performed it according to the guidelines set forth by JCAHO.

    Sincerely,
    RN for patient advocacy
    Michelle Bunch

    November 3, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  13. G Whipple

    April 7 2008 Doctor at Cleveland Clinic / Pain Management Dept Took me in the medical procedure room, he read the Allergy Alert Braclet placed on me by the nurse. Then they proceeded to inject into my spine two of the ingredients listed on the the Alert Braclet.

    November 3, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  14. anonymous2u

    There are answers to this problem in the industrial engineering world, but it's not in [Health Care Professionals] training, therefore, they don't know what it is and they don't recognize it when they see it. I told at least 12 people on the way into surgery that I can't have monocryl stitches, it was in my chart and on my armband. I got monocryl stitches anyway. There are intelligent ways to stop this. They don't even try. They don't know how. It's not in their training. They are reprimanded when things go wrong, which is pretty late in the process to do anything useful. They need to look at their PROCESSES more clearly. Reprimanding people after its too late isn't all that useful. Health Care is notorious (due to lawsuits) for blaming PEOPLE. People make mistakes, but more often, PROCESSES are what actually need to be looked at.

    November 3, 2009 at 3:20 pm |
  15. anonymous2u

    RN's are a buffer for physician liability. They need better processes. Somehow I think that if I wrote NO MONOCRYL on my chest, they would have covered up the NO and I would have gotten Monocryl anyway. They seem to like Monocryl evidently. My body spits it out. Very difficult to get it to heal for me.

    November 3, 2009 at 3:26 pm |
  16. anonymous2u

    I told at least 12 people on the way in that I couldn't have monocryl. RN's, doctors...didn't matter.

    November 3, 2009 at 3:28 pm |
  17. mike

    I feel for anyone who receives bad care. Honestly, I would have trouble believing some of the stories out there, including mine, if I had not had the experience. That may be why there is not a big uprising concerning the acceptable levels of 'standard of care'.

    This happened at Marion Medical Center in Santa Maria, CA with Dr A. E.
    I went in for a diskectomy at the lower back. The doctor broke an instrument and left the broken piece in my back, in the disc space between the vertabra. The hospital threw away the rest of the instrument, knowing that would limit accountability. The piece has migrated, wedging itself between the bones. The doctor denied making a bad decision. I haven't found a doctor that will touch me since, not even a VA doctor.

    I'm told that the doc met the standard of care. How can no one be held accountable when a broken instrument cripples a person?

    Limiting payouts only fuels the doctors ego and relieves them of responsibility for mistakes.

    November 3, 2009 at 3:35 pm |
  18. anonymous2u

    Personally, I don't think rating doctors the way they are currently trying to do it in some of these organizations is helping patients all that much. They don't have the right measurement tools developed or implemented yet...again, it's not in their training...they aren't ready. There are a few groups that are starting to get realistic systems up and running, but nothing you would probably be all that impressed with. Give them a few years.

    November 3, 2009 at 3:55 pm |
  19. anonymous2u

    Hospitals/Physicians take the heat for lousy products also. (Some will let anything come in...low bid??? and take the blame for it when things go wrong.) There's a LOT that health care can learn from industrial engineering, but they aren't there yet.

    November 3, 2009 at 4:03 pm |
  20. anonymous2u

    We have to define what quality is in health care. They did little one hour training sessions on Quality, but they didn't get deep enough to get where they needed to be on that. The concept got overexposed on a level that was too shallow to be useful. (It's useful, but they didn't take it to that level...setting up the processes and statistically getting the correct data in the correct manner. They are more like a batch shop, but with multiple people with individual cases and limited staff...so they have a hard time thinking about processes. Somebody needs to design the problems with human factors out for them.)

    Quality isn't necessarily low bid.

    November 3, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  21. Fred

    That's an interesting point. It's worth researching.

    November 4, 2009 at 7:26 am |
  22. michael armstrong sr. TX.

    I have the best heart doctor in the world at the Sherman Group Heart Doctors in Tx. Wilson and Jones Hospital thanks for keeping me alive Dr. T .

    November 4, 2009 at 10:19 am |
  23. Lisa G.

    I had a lymph node under my left arm removed last year. I decided to mark my body like everyone suggests in order to avoid wrong-site surgery. I wrote YES on the correct arm after the nurse told me to do so. I also decided to write NO on the wrong arm. When the nurse saw I wrote NO, she reprimanded me for adding that. She said it might "confuse" the surgeon. I told her that if the surgeon didn't know the difference between YES and NO I was in big trouble. You really do have to stand up for yourself and protect yourself when you are in the hospital.

    November 4, 2009 at 10:21 am |
  24. Laddie V.

    Your TV comment stated there would be websites listed whwew one could go to get hospital info. I do not find them here.

    November 4, 2009 at 11:00 am |
  25. Scottish mama 1st obama mama

    My son had to have His Mcl and acl in his knee repaired after a football injury.
    I brought a perminent marker and as my son wrote not this knee we laughed.
    When checking in the nurse put the bracelet on him and my son said this is not my bracelet it has someone elses name on it. They had to cut the unknown mans bracelet off. My husband and I made sure everyone knew which leg and why my son was there. Scary.

    November 4, 2009 at 11:46 am |
  26. Scottish mama 1st obama mama

    Michelle then you are saying it is not the surgeons fault it is the R.N.s fault.

    November 4, 2009 at 11:49 am |
  27. Scottish mama 1st obama mama

    My mother before retiring was a nurse. A doctor she knew cut her iliac artery during her back surgery, she was on deaths door, they turned her over and fixed the artery. She worked for that hospital till she retired. 35 years this year she finally found a doctor and he went in and relieved the pain. she is 80 years old.

    November 4, 2009 at 11:58 am |
  28. Dodie ~ California

    I was unfortunate enough to have cataract in both eyes. I went to a reputable doctor for cataract surgery in 2007 which was covered 100% through my insurance company. I gave the MD $2,000 extra to insure I would get the best lens available. Lucky, I was wise enough to have surgery only in one eye. As a result, she used a substandard old style lens and did not center the lens; which was reported by several other surgeons.

    To date, I am now almost blind in that eye. This situation is threatening my job. I have never filed a lawsuit. I am just coping with the mess.

    My point: Not all Americans sue even though MDs has made catastrophic mistakes.

    November 4, 2009 at 1:02 pm |
  29. Larry Adams

    Matthew Hou, spent 6 months on the job, and now he's an expert, my bet is he got scared and chickened out and now wants to justify his running out, sounds a lot like Shara Palin. Why give him a voice for running out when thousands are dieing over their, way to go Matthew!!

    November 4, 2009 at 2:20 pm |
  30. Fred

    I guess we have to strike a balance as Liz Cohen suggests sometimes in her reporting. As a patient you want to be informed and empowered as much as is humanly possible, but if you don't basically trust your doctor and allow her/him to do her/his job, then you're always second-guessing...but aren't most important decisions in life a little bit risky?
    My favouratie reporting on all things medical is still CNNs HER HEALTH because it is what I worry about above all else...

    November 4, 2009 at 3:40 pm |
  31. Gaston

    These tips are very important. My doctor fogot to give me PAP results that could result in me having pre cancerous or canerous cells.

    November 5, 2009 at 3:30 pm |