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West Virginia readers have likely heard horror stories about patients who were victims of surgical errors. However, people may be unsure how to protect themselves and their families from similar situations when they undergo a surgical procedure.

As with most things, prevention is better than a cure. Patients can help prevent surgical errors by taking the same friend or relative with them each time they meet with the surgeon. This person should listen to the treatment plan and ask questions. Patients should also get a second opinion and find a surgeon who specializes in treating patients with their medical condition. They should learn all they can about their diagnosis and treatment options. Educated patients can make more informed decisions about their care.

Before the surgery, patients should arrange follow-up visits with the surgeon. They should also arrange for friends and family members to take turns staying with them at the hospital after the surgery. If a patient experiences any complications, such as sharp pain, it should be reported immediately. If a surgical error takes place, patients should consult with the hospital's patient advocate and ask for copies of all hospital records. Patients should also file a complaint with the state medical board and ask the hospital to perform an investigation.

Victims of surgical errors may want to speak to an attorney about their legal rights. Depending on the details of the case, it may be advisable to file a medical malpractice claim against the surgeon who performed the operation. Legal counsel might help a patient compile evidence supporting his or her claim and file the lawsuit in court. If the suit is successful, the doctor may be forced to pay compensatory damages.

Source: Daily Times, "When surgery goes wrong due to human error," Melissa Martin, Ph.D., June 11, 2018

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