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Wrong-sided nerve blocks are a medical hazard

Ohio surgical patients may be aware that medical mistakes like operating on the wrong site sometimes occur, but they may not know that anesthetic mistakes are also a problem in U.S. hospitals. For example, wrong-sided nerve blocks sometimes occur even though many hospitals have zero tolerance policies against such errors.

Nerve blocks are performed during certain surgeries to help fully anesthetize a patient. For a knee surgery, a patient may receive a spinal anesthetic, an adductor canal catheter and a single-shot sciatic nerve block. The site of the nerve block is typically initialed by the surgeon before the operation begins. However, there have been times when anesthesiologists have blocked the wrong nerve because of inattentiveness or because a patient has been moved into a new position during surgery prep. In one case in North Carolina, a patient's sweat caused the ink from the doctor's initials to imprint from one knee to the other, momentarily confusing the anesthesiologist.

While a wrong-sided nerve block is not as potentially catastrophic as wrong-sided surgery, the procedure is invasive and can cause complications. To help prevent errors, some anesthesiologists have begun adding their own initials to the site of the nerve block prior to surgery. Another effective preventative protocol is a mandatory "timeout," which requires the medical staff to verify the correct limb and location of a nerve block before inserting the needle. All medical facilities use some form of timeout procedure, but there is no universal standard for the protocol.

According to experts, wrong-sided nerve blocks can lead to wrong-site surgeries and other complications. A patient who has been the victim of this type of hospital negligence may want to have legal assistance in seeking appropriate compensation for the losses that resulted from the error.

Source: Anesthesiology News, "Near Miss for Wrong-Sided Block Illustrates Importance of Protocols," Michael Vlessides, Sept. 6, 2016

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