A patient who was hospitalized in a dedicated Trauma Centre run by the Delhi government with head and face injuries that he sustained in an accident, instead underwent surgery under GA for a fractured leg, as reported in TOI. The surgeon mistook him for another patient admitted in the same ward who had a leg fracture. A small hole was drilled into the patient’s right leg to put a pin on Thursday morning. As the procedure had been done under general anesthesia, the patient could not realize or object to it. However, the pin was removed within hours following a corrective surgery after it was brought to the attention of the authoritis. A committee examined the case found merit in the allegations and a disciplinary action was initiated against the doctor, a senior resident, who has been barred from conducting surgeries without supervision with immediate effect.
Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin term, which literally translates as “the thing speaks for itself”. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is a rule of evidence in cases of medical negligence. It infers negligence from the very nature of an accident or injury in the absence of direct evidence on how any defendant behaved. Res ipsa loquitur is not applicable when determining the liability for criminal negligence; it applies only in cases of civil negligence.
To prove medical negligence, usually three components have to be established:
- There was an element of duty to be performed
- There was breach of duty
- Resultant damage
If the patient is not harmed by the physician’s error, then the patient cannot recover damages arising out of the error.
This case answers ‘yes’ to all the three components of medical negligence: there was a duty of care, there was a breach in the duty of care and the patient did suffer damage as a direct result of the breach.
In res ipsa loquitur, these three components of medical negligence elements are inferred from an injury that does not ordinarily occur without negligence i.e. negligence is evident and the complainant does not have to prove anything as the “thing proves itself” as also in this case.
This is a medical error and can be classified as a ‘never event’ i.e. event that should never occur under any circumstance. Never events are defined as adverse events that are serious, largely preventable, and of concern to both the public and health care providers for the purpose of public accountability. They are usually a direct result of a negligent action and no trial of expert’s evidence is necessary
The US National Quality Forum has defined 29 never events segregated into seven categories: surgical, product or device, patient protection, care management, environmental, radiologic, and criminal.
“Surgery or other invasive procedure performed on the wrong patient” is included in list of surgical never events along with “surgery or other invasive procedure performed on the wrong body part, wrong surgical or other invasive procedure performed on a patient, unintended retention of a foreign object in a patient after surgery or other procedure”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a Surgical Safety Checklist, to be read out loud, to decrease errors and adverse events for use in any operating theatre environment. The checklist has three phases as below:
“Sign In”: Before induction of anesthesia
- Has the patient confirmed his/her identity, site, procedure and consent?
- Is the surgical site marked?
- Is the anaesthesia machine and medication check complete?
- Does the patient have a: Known allergy, Difficult airway/aspiration risk or Risk of >500ml blood loss (7ml/kg in children)?
“Time Out”: Before start of surgical intervention
- Have all team members introduced themselves by name and role?
- Surgeon, Anesthetist and Registered Practitioner verbally confirm: What is the patient’s name? What procedure, site and position are planned?
- Anticipated critical events (surgeon, nurse, anesthetist)
- Has the surgical site infection (SSI) bundle been undertaken? Antibiotic prophylaxis within the last 60 minutes • Patient warming • Hair removal • Glycemic control
- Has VTE prophylaxis been undertaken?
- Is essential imaging displayed?
“Sign Out”: Before any member of the team leaves the OR
- Registered Practitioner verbally confirms with the team:
o Has the name of the procedure been recorded?
o Has it been confirmed that instruments, swabs and sharps counts are complete (or not applicable)?
o Have the specimens been labelled (including patient name)?
o Have any equipment problems been identified that need to be addressed?
- Surgeon, Anesthetist and Registered Practitioner: What are the key concerns for recovery and management of this patient?
However, when deciding the quantum of punishment, the mitigating circumstances need to be considered.
Does the hospital have a protocol in place to avoid such mistakes? Generally, a minimum of two ID marks are required to be checked at the time of surgery. More than one patient can have the same name; room numbers may not be reliable as an identification mark. Matching of HUID no. is important.
Being overworked, lack of resources and infrastructure, insufficient staff etc. is no excuse for not following such a checklist.
There should be guidelines and/or protocols in place, which should be strictly implemented. If there are no guidelines, then there is an urgent need to develop them as per requirements. The checklist must be completed for each patient who undergoes a surgery, including under LA. It also must be documented in the patient chart.
By following these few but crucial steps, such errors can be minimized. It also ensures effective team work.
This mistake is not just that of the doctor alone. It is also a result of system failure and administration error.
Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
Vice President CMAAO
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
Vice President CMAAO
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Immediate Past National President IMA
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