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It is amazing that something as simple as marking the body part to cut on can prevent surgeons and hospitals from harming patients.

However, it works. Hospitals have long needed to modernize and standardize their practices to ensure patient safety. A landmark 2000 article and study showed that a hundred thousand patients die each year from medical mistakes in hospitals. This does not even include those who are simply harmed, rather than killed, by medical errors.

By putting an “X” on the body part to be worked on, the hospital can prevent taking out the wrong kidney or amputating the wrong leg. It sounds crazy, but it has happened with some frequency. One way it happens is for the x-ray to simply be read upside down. Another way is for someone’s handwriting to make the word left seem like the word right.

Our firm recently handled a medical malpractice case where the hospital x-ray department sent a film by email to the radiologist in another town to read. The problem was the hospital sent the wrong persons x-ray. The radiologist read a different film than the one intended. The result was that the patient was severely injured.

One other change, which hospitals should make, is to require that their staff disclose medical errors promptly to patients and families. Most often, the clients that call our firm about medical malpractice cases are clients who were treated badly. It isn’t as much a factor of what was done wrong medically as the bad bedside manner and customer service by the doctors and hospitals.

Hopefully, the medical profession will improve their safety record and reduce the number of injuries caused by medical malpractice.

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