Surgery Performed on Wrong Eye

By Kim Smiley

There are few medical errors scarier than a wrong site surgery.  The idea that you could go to sleep and wake up having had a procedure performed on the wrong body part is terrifying.  Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to a family in Washington recently.

On April 13, 2011, a surgeon performing a routine procedure to correct a wandering eye mistakenly operated on the wrong eye of a four year old boy.  In this case, the wandering eye was caused by a muscle that was too strong so the surgery was performed to weaken the muscle.  It’s unclear at this point whether the wrong site surgery will have any lasting impact on the patient’s vision, but the patient’s mother has stated that the previously healthy eye is now wandering.  A specialist who examined the boy post-surgery stated that the eye needs to completely heal (about 5 weeks) until any determination can be made about long term consequences.

How did this happen?  How does a surgeon perform a procedure on the wrong part of the body? And most importantly, how do we prevent these types of errors in the future?

The investigation of this incident is still ongoing, but a Cause Map of the incident can be started and then expanded as more information becomes available.  A Cause Map is a visual root cause analysis that lays out the causes of an incident in an intuitive format.  Once the Cause Map is complete, it can be used to develop solutions to help prevent future problems. Click on “Download PDF” above to see an Outline of this incident and the initial Cause Map.

In this example, it isn’t clear yet how the mistake was made.  Findings from the investigation so far have determined that the correct eye was marked before surgery, but statements by the surgeon indicate that the mark may have been accidentally covered by a nurse. The hospital has protocols in place that require checking and double checking the surgery site, but it’s not clear why they weren’t followed.  Once the investigation is complete, the hospital will determine what solutions need to be implemented to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.