Patients are putting their lives in the hands of surgeons when they undergo an operation, so there should be no question that the surgery team will conduct the proper procedure on the patient. Unfortunately, sometimes surgical errors happen. In some instances, surgeons may conduct an operation on the wrong patient. 

A “wrong patient” error occurs when a medical care facility performs a procedure on a patient, but mistakes that patient for another patient who should have received the procedure. Some patients who suffer an incorrect operation experience serious psychological and physical harm. There are also people who have died from receiving the wrong surgery. 

A case of mistaken identity

A recent story out of New Jersey illustrates how a wrong patient operation may happen. According to CBS News, in November 2019 a hospital had given the wrong patient a kidney transplant. The patient was waiting for a kidney but was not on the donor list. The problem was that the patient had the same name and was close in age as the person who should have received the kidney. 

As it turned out, the patient who received the kidney was compatible with the kidney. However, if the patient had not been compatible, the patient could have died after receiving the kidney. 

Handling name confusion with better communication

According to the Patient Safety Network, poor communication is the root cause of many surgical errors. This is why health care providers developed the surgical timeout, which is a pause before a surgical procedure to review the crucial parts of the procedure with everyone involved in the surgery. Timeouts may also include surgical safety checklists to review information before proceeding with surgery, including the name and identity of the person to receive the surgery. 

Nonetheless, improved communication has so far not stopped all instances of surgical errors like wrong patient surgery. Patients should consider ways to protect themselves before undergoing even a minor procedure, like bringing someone along as company on the day of the operation, which may help confirm to doctors the identity of the patient to receive the procedure.