A Tongue Tie Release Wrongly Performed in Case of Tongue Lesion Resection

By Angela Griffith

A California hospital has been fined $50,000 – its fifth administrative penalty from the State since 2009 – for performing the wrong procedure on a 6-year-old boy.  The boy was supposed to receive a tongue lesion resection, but instead a tongue tie release was performed.

We can examine the issues that resulted in this incident within a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis.  The first step in any analysis is to define what you are analyzing.  We begin with impacts to the organization’s goals.  In this case, we look at the impacted goals from the respect of the hospital.  First, the patient safety goal  was impacted due to an increased risk of bleeding, infection, and complications from anesthesia.  The compliance goal is impacted because performing the wrong surgical procedure on a patient is a “Never Event” (events that should never happen).  The organizational goal is impacted because of the $50,000 fine levied by the State of California.  The patient services goal is impacted because the wrong procedure was performed and the labor goal was impacted due to the additional procedure that was required to be performed.

The second step of our analysis is to develop the cause-and-effect relationships that describe how the incident occurred.  We can develop these relationships by beginning with the Impacted Goals and asking “why” questions.  For example, the patient safety goal was impacted because of the additional risk to the patient. The patient received additional risk because of the performance of an additional procedure.  An additional procedure was necessary because the wrong procedure was initially performed.

There are many causes that contributed to the wrong surgery being performed.  These causes are outlined in the  report provided by the California Department of Public Health.  In this case, there were several causes that likely resulted in the wrong procedure.  The Operative Report had the incorrect diagnosis – tongue tie – which would suggest that a release would be the appropriate procedure.  Additionally, the Anesthesia Record contained the wrong procedure (tongue tie release), possibly because the Pre-Anesthesia Evaluation originally noted that a tongue tie release was to be performed and was later corrected (by crossing out the incorrect procedure and writing in the actual procedure).

The type and site of surgery was not verified.  The surgeon who performed the surgery could not remember if a time-out had been performed, although there was a record of a time-out performed immediately prior to the surgical procedure.  Since the time-out was performed immediately prior to the procedure and the surgeon was unable to remember the proper procedure, the time-out was obviously ineffective.

The surgeon stated after the surgery that he believed that the tongue tie release surgery which was performed was indicated based on scar tissue that was found under the tongue.  The surgeon did not notice the lesion on the tongue during the surgery and no pre-surgical exam was performed by the surgeon.  Additionally, the surgical site was not marked (as the site of the correct, as well as the incorrect, surgeries were both within the patient’s mouth).

During the procedure, none of the other staff stopped the surgery as it was occurring.  However, given the proximity of the “correct” site to the “incorrect” site, it may have been difficult for the other staff to see what was going on.  The surgeon did note that the lesion removal should have created a sample, the lack of which was not noted by staff.

The surgeon involved in this case has indicated that he will be examining his patients prior to surgery in the future. Hopefully this incident will also serve as a reminder to all medical staff that in the case of a site that cannot be marked as per procedure, extra care should be taken to ensure the correct site is operated on and the correct procedure is performed.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more