How to Prevent Dangerous Surgical Errors

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When it comes to preventing dangerous surgical errors, a leading health safety organization says it’s time for patients and their families to speak up.

According to estimates from  the Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits U.S. hospitals and other healthcare organizations, surgical errors occur in this country about 40 times every week. Examples of serious surgical errors the organization includes in this count are:

  • Wrong site surgery – operating on the wrong part of the patient’s body
  • Wrong patient surgery – operating on the wrong patient
  • Wrong procedure surgery – performing the wrong operation on a patient

The Joint Commission makes it the surgical team’s responsibility to avoid this type of medical error. It offers a “universal protocol” that surgeons and hospitals should follow to prevent surgical mistakes that harm patients.

These recommended steps involve key times before and during surgery.

The Joint Commission’s universal protocol for safe surgeries begins with answering important questions or clearing up any possible confusion prior to an operation. These steps are designed to prevent operating on the wrong patient or performing the wrong procedure.

Protocols to Follow for Safe Surgeries

Surgical teams should verify the correct procedure, that it is the correct patient, and the right body site to be operated on.  Whenever possible, the healthcare providers should involve the patient at this time.

Another tool in the pre-surgical efforts to avoid serious operating mistakes is using a standardized list for every procedure.  This list, according to the Joint Commission, should include:

  • Patient documentation – patient history, signed consent form, and a patient evaluation prior to administering anesthesia
  • Key test results – any pertinent x-ray, MRI or diagnostic tests should be gathered and displayed in the OR
  • Required tools – any necessary medical devices or equipment, as well as blood products confirmed to be available

Marking the patient to ensure the correct surgical site is another vital step to avoid grave surgical errors.  This process should include:

  • Marking the site in a clear manner, one that is used throughout the hospital
  • Involve the patient in marking the correct site if possible
  • Marked by a healthcare provider ultimately responsible for the procedure and who will be present during the surgery

And once a surgery has started, there is one other important step, which is conducting a time-out. It’s one final check.

Surgical Team Communication To Avoid Surgical Errors

A time-out stops the procedure just before making the surgical incision. It involves every member of the surgical team communicating to ensure one last time that they all agree on:

  • Patient’s identity
  • About to operate on the correct site
  • About to perform the correct procedure on the patient

While the ultimate responsibility for performing safe surgeries with the surgical teams, the Joint Commission also provides a blueprint that patients and families can follow to help prevent them becoming surgical error victims.

It’s called SPEAK UP and contains the following elements:

Speak up

Pay attention

Educate yourself

Advocates (family members and friends) can help

Know about your new medicine

Use a quality health care organization

Participate in all decisions about your care

The Joint Commission’s “Speak Up for Safe Surgery” covers the pre and post-op stages.

Prior to surgery, patients should speak with their doctors about what medications they are taking, any special food intake rules, and sedation options.

Friends and family members also play a role, by communicating any special health conditions when the patient cannot, as well ask questions about the surgery.

And, just before surgery, the patient should confirm the type of operation and the body part to be operated on when signing an informed consent document.  Express concerns of any kind prior to consenting.

Following surgery, patients should keep the communication lines with healthcare providers open, especially regarding:

  • Medication
  • Any signs of infection, such as fever or redness around the surgical site
  • Discharge plans

Unfortunately, even when a patient or family members follow each of these steps, surgical teams still can harm patients when they get careless. And this occurs, reportedly, nearly 40 times a week.

If you had a family member die or was some other way seriously and needlessly harmed after a surgical procedure, speak with a personal injury attorney about holding accountable all those responsible.

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

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles November 25, 2020

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