How to Prevent Serious Surgical Errors

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Among the many types of catastrophic medical mistakes that occur, surgical errors can be the most dire.

Every surgery poses risks to a certain degree.  But there are mistakes in surgery that should never occur.  These “never events” include:

·         Wrong site surgery

·         Operating on the wrong patient

·         Performing the wrong procedure on a patient

A study published in JAMA Surgery estimated that as many as 2,700 wrong-site, wrong-procedure and wrong-patient surgical errors occur each year.  The authors note that such surgical mistakes probably are underreported.  This is a claim bolstered by other research released last year that found only 55 percent of surgeons who made an error apologized or explained if it was preventable.

4,000 Preventable Surgical Errors Happen Every Year

Still more research, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, concluded a bit more than 4,000 surgical “never events” happen annually in the United States, resulting in permanent injury for a third of the patients.  Six percent of the victims of a serious surgical error in the study died.  And 12 percent of the surgeons involved made errors on multiple patients.

So the outcomes of surgical errors can be fatal and surgeons often are reluctant to discuss them afterwards.  The focus, then, should be on preventing them.

One key for preventing surgical mistakes is for surgical teams to employ surgery checklists.  Such checklists call for surgical team members to sign off on a series of safety checks every step along the way – before, during and after the procedure.

Such checklists typically are not lengthy; fewer than 20 questions.  But they are a proven way to prevent surgery mistakes.  A number of studies involving hospitals that use surgical checklists found a decrease in patient deaths - as much as 22 percent.

What Can Patients Do to Prevent Surgical Errors?

Patients and their families can help guard against surgical errors.  They should make certain to confirm with the surgeon and all other members of the surgical team what procedure is to be done and on which body part.  Insist that the body part be clearly marked prior to entering the operating room.

However, it is important to remember that most surgical errors are preventable, and the responsibility for preventing them falls solely on the healthcare providers.

If you had a family member die as a result of a surgical procedure and you believe a mistake was made, you may want an experienced medical malpractice attorney to conduct an investigation on your behalf.

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

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Blog August 8, 2017


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