What Can Patients Do to Prevent Serious Surgical Errors?

One leading research organization ranks medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States.  Can hospital patients protect themselves from being victims of serious medical mistakes?

Numerous types of preventable medical errors can cause great harm to patients – misdiagnosis to hospital acquired infections to medication mistakes.  But one group of the most serious medical mistakes that occur in hospitals is surgical errors.  These include wrong-site surgery (operating on the wrong body part), wrong patient surgery (performing surgery on a patient who does not need it), and the wrong type or dosage of anesthesia.

While the onus for avoiding these catastrophic, often deadly surgery mistakes is on the hospital and the hospital’s surgical teams, there are steps patients can take to help prevent them from being victims.

Surgical Errors from Miscommunication

Miscommunication between medical care givers is a chief contributor to serious medical errors.  The same can be true for doctor-patient communication, especially prior to surgery.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the surgery, the need for it, and the surgeon’s track record for the procedure you are undergoing.  A surgeon should not resent such questions.  And if you’re unable to question your surgeon, make sure you have an advocate for you during your hospital stay, such as a trusted family member.

According to The Joint Commission, a not-for-profit healthcare accreditation organization, questions prior to surgery should cover what medications to stop prior to surgery, and eating and drinking before a procedure.  And be sure to write down any and all questions you have to avoid forgetting them in a time of understandable stress.

Confirm Patient Condition and Health History

When admitted to the hospital for surgery, patients need to pay attention to the litany of questions they will be asked by the medical staff.  Hospital providers should confirm the patient’s name and condition and the procedure they are scheduled for, and review possible risks.  Patients and family members need to provide complete and correct answers.

To avoid a wrong-site surgery error, surgeons typically mark the part of the patient’s body to be operated on.  Patients who are able should alert their surgeon if they marked the wrong area.  If patients are unable, then their advocates must fill this role.

Following surgery, patients should report any pain or other new health issues they are experiencing to surgeons and nurses.

Often times, numerous medications are part of a patient’s post-op orders.  It’s always a good idea for patients or their advocates to ask about these medicines so they are aware as to possible side effects or potential allergy issues.

Many serious hospital-acquired infections result from dirty medical devices or dirty rooms.  Hospital care providers, therefore, are expected to keep rooms and equipment clean.  Patients that don’t see evidence of this should speak up.

These are few proactive measures that patients can take to help eliminate serious surgical mistakes.  But even patients who do all they can to protect themselves may suffer from shoddy and substandard medical care.  Doctors who make avoidable mistakes that harm or kill patients should be held accountable.

If you were seriously injured or had a family member die in the hospital and you believe errors in care were made, contact a medical malpractice attorney.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Articles June 29, 2018