Some medical professionals have trouble telling right from left

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

New York residents may be surprised to learn that a significant portion of humans have difficulty discerning right from left. According to experts, the ability to tell right from left is a complex neuro-psychological process that involves a variety of higher neurological functions, including the integration of sensory and visual cues, memory and language. Many people have no problem processing the information, but it can be a real challenge for others.

While this phenomenon may sound like nothing more than interesting scientific trivia, the inability to discriminate right from left can have devastating real-world consequences in some settings. For example, there are many documented cases of surgery being performed on the wrong side of a patient, leading to the wrong kidney being removed or the wrong limb being amputated.

Research seems to indicate that older people and women may have more difficulty telling right and left apart. A study done also indicated that distraction plays a role in the problem. In busy hospitals, beeping monitors, telephone calls and conversations with medical staff and patients have all been found to increase left-right confusion in medical students. Some medical professionals who know they have a problem determining right from left develop tricks to ensure they don’t make critical medical errors. Medical facilities also have a system of checks and balances in place to avoid such mistakes.

Unfortunately, wrong-site surgical errors occur despite the safety precautions of medical personnel and hospitals. Anyone who has been the victim of such a mistake may wish to consult with an attorney. It may be possible to obtain a financial settlement that provides compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering.

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