Wrong-Site Surgery: Spinal Surgery


There are many patient safety issues and one such issue is surgeries and invasive procedures on the wrong body part. When it comes to spinal surgery, surgeons sometimes fail to properly identify the correct disc from MRI scans and x-rays prior to starting a surgery. As with all types of medical malpractice, surgeries on the wrong spinal disc more common than they should be. According to the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, operating on the wrong level of the spine is considered one of the most common causes for medical malpractice. According to the Burton Report, spine surgeons have the second highest number of medical malpractice cases.

In one Texas case, Douglas and Brenda Ray v. Mignucci, a spine surgeon removed the wrong spinal disc during a surgery in 2002. The patient was not billed for the first surgery and the bill for the second surgery on the correct disc was substantially reduced. The jury in this case found that the spine surgeon removed the T5-T6 thoracic spinal disc by mistake rather than the T6-T7 disc. The doctor blamed the mistake on an unclear MRI image and the height of the 6 foot 2 inch patient, making the count of vertebrae more challenging. Additionally, the herniation on the correct disc was obscured from the doctor’s view according to the patient. The patient was awarded $134,000 in damages by the jury in 2004. Of the total award, $94,000 of the award went to the patient, while $40,000 went to the patient’s wife.

There have been some attempts to prevent wrong-site surgeries. Some guidelines have been created that detail implementation requirements, exemptions, and adaptions for special situations. First there needs to be a pre-operative verification process to verify that they are operating on the correct patient, they are performing the correct procedure, and verification of the site. This should be done while the patient is awake and aware if possible. Additionally the operative site should be marked, at or near the incision site. This mark should be unambiguous, visible after the patient has been prepped and draped, and done with a marker that is sufficiently permanent so as to withstand skin prep. The method of marking should be consistent throughout the organization.

Guidelines and protocols such as those above can be very helpful in preventing wrong site surgeries. However, if you or a loved one has been injured due to a wrong site surgery you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.

But what do you think? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at jfisher@fishermalpracticelaw.com . You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com.