One type of surgical error is wrong-site surgery. This is when a doctor performs a procedure on the wrong person or place on the body.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains there are three types of wrong-site surgical errors.

Wrong-level or wrong-part

Wrong level or wrong part surgical errors describe those where the doctor has the correct patient and spot on the person’s body but is not at the right level of the anatomy. A common example is during spinal surgery. The surgeon is correctly operating on the spine but makes the mistake of operating at the wrong level of the spine.

This type of error could happen due to incorrect paperwork or a misunderstanding by the surgeon. It could also be completely the fault of the doctor who is not properly paying attention to the orders.


Wrong-patient surgery happens when there is some type of mix-up that allows a doctor to perform surgery on the wrong person. There are checks and balances within the system to avoid this type of error. It should never happen if everyone is checking IDs and verifying a patient matches their documentation and armbands.


Wrong-side surgery is where the doctor does surgery on the right patient and in the right part of the body, but on the wrong side of the body. For example, an amputation surgery of the left arm was supposed to be the right arm.

Again, this should never happen because of checks and balances, but it does happen when doctors and other medical providers are not paying attention or make errors in paperwork.