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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"He's otherwise a good physician": A surgical error

In June, a Massachusetts surgeon set out to remove an 84-year-old woman's gallbladder with a fiber-optic instrument called a laparoscope. Unexpectedly, he found a significant amount of organ inflammation and bleeding during the procedure, so he switched to open surgery to address the problem. However, he misinterpreted the results of a medical test during the procedure, so he operated in the wrong anatomical area. He dissected and removed the woman’s right kidney instead of her gallbladder. The error was only discovered when a pathologist tested the removed organ three days later. The patient was transferred to an academic medical center, where her condition improved. In fact, she has not since needed her gallbladder removed.

The state Board of Registration in Medicine has now finished its investigation. It noted that the award-winning surgeon had no other action against him in the past. The Board’s spokesman commented that while the incident warrants close observation, "oftentimes, it doesn't do anybody any good to remove a physician from practice if he is otherwise a good physician." I agree.

Advice to patients: When a surgeon advises surgery, get a second opinion from a doctor who is not a surgeon. This woman did not need her gallbladder--or her kidney--removed.

Read another kidney story, or read the full newspaper article by David Riley.

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