Just last month, The Clinical Spine Surgery published the results of a study aimed at determining the frequency of reported occurrences of spinal surgery being performed at the incorrect level in VA hospitals, causal factors for these events, and proposing solutions to the issue.
According to the Joint Commission, surgery on the wrong site of the spine is one of the most common events reported. In fact, approximately 50% of spine surgeons have performed surgery on the wrong level of the spine and, in certain cases, have caused significant harm to the patient.
In conducting the study, the adverse event reports from the VA related to wrong level spine surgery from 2000 to 2017 were reviewed and examined. The results were thirty-two reported cases of spine surgery being performed at the wrong level. Fourteen cases involved the cervical region, thirteen in the lumbar region, and five in the thoracic region. Interestingly, the majority of these were caused by either a problem with the radiograph, problems with the intraoperative marker, or both.
The fact that bad radiology practices are a root cause of this problem is not all that surprising, as the VA is frequently looking for ways to save money and cut corners, all while advancing the interests of telehealth related service providers. One such factor, likely playing a role in such malpractice, is the generalized use of outsourced imaging studies, which has resulted in many missed opportunities to address a patient’s emergency needs in a timely manner, before avoidable death or injury. In fact, patients frequently require urgent imaging readings; however, that urgency is often times lost in translation between the local VA and the outsourced radiograph service provider.
Moving forward, the authors of the study suggested that clinicians attempt to optimize imaging quality while also maintaining accuracy in the interpretation of the studies at issue. However, perhaps another recommendation should be that VA physicians personally interpret and read the images themselves, in order to provide appropriate and timely treatment.
Surgical procedures performed on the wrong level of the spine are considered sentinel events, which may cause serious damage to patients, both physically as well as mentally.
If you or someone you know is a veteran with an injury from a spine surgery on the wrong level, do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to help seek the compensation you deserve.