When it comes to medical mistakes, there are few as nightmarish as a mistake during surgery. Like most patients, you expect a high standard of care when you enter the surgeon’s office. While you might be afraid of complications, you may not necessarily expect the possibility of a medical mistake, particularly a serious mistake like wrong-site, wrong-procedure, wrong-patient errors or WSPEs.

While these are rare mistakes, they are severe. The Department of Health & Human Services describes WSPEs as never events. They never should happen.

What are WSPEs?

In a WSPE, a surgeon performs a procedure on the wrong body part, the wrong patient or performs the wrong surgery. For instance, a person may have the wrong limb removed. Another example includes patients with the same name. There can be mix-ups where the doctors operate on the wrong patient entirely. These medical errors tend to occur in approximately one out of every 112,000 cases. Hospitals may only experience one case every five to ten years.

How can doctors prevent WSPEs?

Communication issues are the root problem of WSPEs. Doctors may be able to prevent these errors by timing out before the surgery begins. During the timeout, those involved with the procedure can discuss the important aspects of the surgery. Surgical safety checklists include these timeouts to help improve the safety of the procedure.

Early initiatives to stop these errors included signing your site. The problem with signing your surgical site is that different hospitals had different protocols. This led to concerns that there may be confusion as to whether the site indicates the area to avoid or to operate on.