A recent study by Clinical Spine Surgery disclosed an alarming and tragic finding. VA surgeons, all too often, are operating on the wrong part of the spines of our veterans. This study revealed that the major causes for this inexcusable type of medical malpractice were mistakes in standard imaging studies. Common errors include mistakes when taking radiographs or the use of intraoperative markers. The mistakes involved failures in reading the images due to their poor quality and failures in interpreting the images.
The Joint Commission revealed that an incredible 50% of spinal surgeons reported that they had operated on the wrong site at least once during their career. The Veterans Administration admits that there were 32 cases of wrong site surgery on veterans between 2000 and 2017.
Of the 32 reported cases of operating on the wrong part of the spine:
- 13 involved the lumbar region (the back)
- 5 involved the thoracic region (the region between the neck and the lower back)
- 69% of the root causes involved either the radiograph, the intraoperative marker, or both
The study concluded that optimizing the quality of the diagnostic images is a top priority.
Disabled Veterans reported that the imaging mistakes are partially due to the use of telehealth services. While these new electronic services may save on the cost of live reviews of images, the downside is the telehealth services affect the quality of the diagnostic images. The software needed to transmit the images and receive the reports is often subpar. Additionally, the time delay in outsourcing the images means that the surgeons aren’t able to address the emergency needs of the patients. This delayed reading can cause physical harm and death.
Medical malpractice due to wrongful site surgeries
Doctors and VA centers that operate on our veterans owe a high duty of medical care to their patients. Generally, a veteran can file a medical malpractice claim against a doctor if he/she operates on the wrong body part. The rules for filing claims involving the government do differ than the rules for filing civil claims. For starters, there are forms, such as SF-95, that must be filed in a timely manner.
Operating on the wrong site is extremely dangerous for two reasons. The first is the damage the surgery does to the healthy part of the spine. The second is that the part of the spine that does need corrective surgery doesn’t get repaired until a later date.
Veterans deserve the best care possible. They put their lives on the line to protect our safety. We should do everything we can to protect their safety. When surgeons, technicians, and hospitals make easily preventable mistakes they should be accountable for causing death, pain and suffering, the need for further medical care, and other damage.