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Joint Custody

posted: 03/10/2004

If you're ever unfortunate enough to end up on a gurney heading straight for knee surgery, make sure you and your doc agree on which limb he's slicing open. If not, you could wake up with a brand-new ACL—in the wrong leg.

In 1995, the Physicians Insurance Association of America reported that wrong-site surgery had occurred an average of 20 times per year in the U.S. during the previous decade. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), meanwhile, found that joint docs have a one-in-four chance of making an irreversible mistake over a 35-year career. To improve those odds, the AAOS declared a "sign your site protocol in 1997 that urged surgeons to write their initials in permanent ink on the correct operating spot. Since then, the incidence of botched operations has decreased to an average of six per year.

Last year, the Joint Coalition for Hospital Organizations finally made the sign-your-site practice mandatory. "It's groundbreaking for skiers, says James H. Herndon, president of AAOS, "because the arthroscopic surgery used to repair most ACL tears has historically had one of the highest rates of wrong-site surgery. So before he puts you under, make sure your doc autographs the damaged goods.

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