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Ask questions when something goes wrong in surgery

When something goes wrong in surgery, is it simply unavoidable? Is it just "one of those things" that can go either way and can't be predicted? Or, is it the result of someone's negligence? Is it something that could have been avoided?

Unless you ask the right questions, the odds are very good that you'll never know for certain.

The reality is that surgical errors happen way more often than they should -- and many times patients and family members don't realize it.

Researchers estimate that over 4,000 preventable surgical mistakes happen every year. It's estimated that surgeons make the following mistakes every single week:

  • Twenty operations are performed on the incorrect body part
  • Thirty-nine foreign objects, including surgical instruments, are left inside patients
  • Twenty patients receive the wrong surgery entirely

However, these are just the known events. Researchers believe that actual incidents are much higher. Many incidents are simply never reported -- because hospitals don't have to report any of these events if there's no malpractice payment involved.

Many times, surgical mistakes aren't discovered until well after they happened. A surgical tool left inside a patient, for example, may not be found until a patient has a second surgery to look for unexplained pain or to explore a shadow on an x-ray. If a patient dies, which happens in more than 6 percent of cases, relatives may not even think to question the outcome of a bad surgery.

It's important that if you experience a negative surgical outcome --or have a close relative who experiences one -- that you ask questions. Why did it happen? Was it preventable? If you aren't satisfied with the answers or believe that the outcome could have been prevented with a modicum of better attention to detail and care, consider exploring your legal options.

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ALTON —Like any successful trial lawyer, John Hopkins knows the importance of preparation. But he usually doesn’t write out the questions he plans to ask witnesses in depositions or in court.

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