Five wrong-site surgeries in two years have provoked a $150,000 fine from the Rhode Island (RI) Department of Health against Rhode Island Hospital. The hospital serves as the training facility for students, interns and residents at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, which makes repeated documented failures to follow safety procedures such as completing a presurgery checklist particularly deserving of regulatory sanction.
In the most-recent surgical mistake at RIH, the Providence Journal reported Nov. 2, “The surgeon performed two procedures on two parts of a patient’s middle finger. But he was supposed to perform one procedure on the middle finger and a different procedure on the pinky.” RIH also had to pay a $50,000 fine to the state in 2007 after surgeons at the facility botched three separate procedures that year. The worst incident, during which a surgeon operated on the wrong side of a patient’s brain, resulted in the patient’s death.
Surgical mistakes injure or kill thousands of Americans each year. Operations on the wrong limb, organ or location represent the most inexcusable kinds of surgical mistakes because surgeons, nurses and other hospital personnel can prevent them so easily. Simply writing “Yes” on a hand requiring surgery and “No” on the other hand, for instance, can ensure the correct hand gets operated on.
Because I specialize in representing victims of medical malpractice and those victims’ families, I see almost every day how botched surgeries can result in tragedies. I appreciate Rhode Island officials for fining RIH for not ensuring patient safety, but I also think the fine was too small.
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