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The Summer of 2008, a patient went into Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minnesota to have a cancerous kidney removed. The Doctor, was distracted by his beeper and didn’t take the time to read the radiologist’s notes. He removed the wrong kidney. The healthy one.

Dr. Erol T. Uke, a urologist, followed the removal a couple of months later by taking a biopsy from the wrong organ of another patient. No explanation of what it was that distracted him that time. Some two years later, he has been disciplined by the State board.

The story is interesting because it tells us a lot about the system. The discipline seems slow, but I would guess that due process required a full investigation. It is important to point out that the hospital did impose new rules for "mistake proofing" the operating room, including extra steps to double check radiology images and mark patients’ surgery sites before procedures. That is really what is hoped in every one of these cases.

I would ask all the tort reformers out there what they think about this instance? Would a restricted system of recovery make it more or less likely that the hospital would act quickly to make sure this never happens again? Should the doctor maybe have been given a certain number of free mistakes so that after the second or third wrong kidney removal that patient could make a claim? Do you think the hospital charged for the procedure?

I have pointed out before that the Minnesota system works. It works because consumers are protected and at the same time, we have great overall care. The lawyer for Dr Uke, pointed out all of the great work the doctor had done in other instances. That may be true, I would assume that if he had it to do again, he might have turned off the pager or read the notes. Doesn’t really sound like that much to ask.

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