University of Massachusetts Medical School Faculty Publications


Avoiding Medical Errors in Cutaneous Site Identification: A Best Practices Review

UMMS Affiliation

Division of Dermatology, Department of Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type





BACKGROUND: Although the field of dermatology has a relatively low incidence of medical errors, dermatologic surgery is a major area where medical errors occur.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this article is to catalog the many cutaneous site identification techniques used by practitioners and determine which techniques are most evidence based.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: A comprehensive literature review of cutaneous surgical site identification techniques and medical errors in dermatology.

RESULTS: Wrong-site surgery often occurs because of an inability to identify the surgical site because of factors such as inadequate documentation from referring physicians, well-healed scars obscuring the biopsy site, and a patient's inability to visualize the surgical site. Practitioners use techniques such as photography, dermabrasion, written descriptions using anatomic landmarks, and site identification protocols for surgical site identification.

CONCLUSION: Site identification remains a challenge for dermatologists and is a leading cause of medical errors in this field. Patients are often unreliable in their ability to identify biopsy sites; therefore, practitioners must take a proactive role to ensure that medical errors do not occur. This article provides a thorough description and evaluation of current site identification techniques used in dermatology with the aim to improve quality of care and reduce medical errors.

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Citation: Dermatol Surg. 2016 Apr;42(4):477-84. doi: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000000683. Link to article on publisher's site

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Dermatologic surgery : official publication for American Society for Dermatologic Surgery [et al.]

PubMed ID