Background: Wrong-site orthopaedic surgery is an uncommon, devastating, and preventable complication. The sole responsibility for avoiding this inadvertent event has historically been placed on physicians, nurses, and ancillary health-care personnel. Very little attention has been focused on the role of the patient. The successful outcome of any surgical or medical intervention requires an interactive doctor-patient relationship. The hypothesis of this study was that a substantial number of patients who undergo elective orthopaedic surgery do not comply with instructions designed specifically to prevent wrong-site surgery.
Methods: We prospectively evaluated the frequency with which 100 consecutive patients in a private foot-and-ankle practice followed the explicit preoperative instruction, before they underwent elective orthopaedic surgery, to mark "NO" on the extremity that was not to be operated on. Full compliance was defined as a mark on the correct extremity consistent with the instructions. Partial compliance was defined as a mark that was different from that requested by the specific preoperative instructions, and noncompliance was defined as the absence of any mark. Specific demographic and surgical factors were recorded from medical charts and compared between compliant and noncompliant patients.
Results: Fifty-nine of the 100 patients marked the extremity correctly, thirty-seven made no mark, and four were considered partially compliant. Of the ten patients with a Workers' Compensation claim, seven were noncompliant compared with thirty (33%) of the ninety patients who had not made a Workers' Compensation claim (p = 0.023). Patients who had had a previous related surgical procedure also had a significantly higher rate of noncompliance (51%; nineteen of thirty-seven) compared with those with no previous surgery (29%; eighteen of sixty-three; p = 0.023).
Conclusions: A surprisingly high number of patients do not comply with explicit preoperative instructions created specifically to prevent wrong-site surgery. This behavior suggests that patients expect the system to "take care of everything," despite solicitation of their active participation to avoid such adverse events. Although physicians and related health-care personnel certainly have the greatest responsibility to provide the highest possible quality of care, patients undergoing surgery must be encouraged to take a more active role in their health care in order to optimize outcome and minimize risk.