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Surgeons Could Improve Patient Safety, Reduce Medical Mistakes with Use of “Safe-Surgery Checklist”

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Surgeons could reduce patient complications and deaths, and consequently reduce medical mistakes and malpractice lawsuits, by following a “safe-surgery checklist,” according to a study recently published by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

The “safe-surgery checklist,” which was in part developed by surgeon Atul Gawande for the World Health Organization (WHO), offers a way to lessen, if not eliminate, the alarming number of surgical objects left in patients after surgery. The “safe-surgery checklist” mandates that surgical teams stop at three critical points pre- and post-surgery to ask essential questions concerning the operation. USA Today reports that questions may include: “Is there enough blood on hand in case of severe bleeding? Have antibiotics been administered? What are the anesthesiologist’s and nurse’s main concerns?”

The “safe-surgery checklist” has proven effective thus far. The study shows that approximately one third of patient complications and deaths were reduced when surgeons followed the “safe-surgical checklist.” Despite its effectiveness, only 20 percent of hospitals have adopted it, according to Gawande.

In Virginia (VA), North Carolina (NC), South Carolina (SC) and West Virginia (WV), tens of thousands of surgeries take place every year. Of all surgeries, it is estimated that one in every 5,000 patients will unfortunately have a surgical object left inside them. Further, Science Daily reports that, across the United States, an estimated 1500 surgical items, such as towels, sponges and medical tools, are unknowingly sewn up into patients every year. This negligence is dangerous to the patient, as it can cause physical discomfort, septic shock, infection and sometimes death. This negligence is also the source of a number of medical malpractice lawsuits each year.

With the development and proven effectiveness of this checklist, hospitals and surgeons should take note. If more hospitals implemented such checklists, the quality of patient care would increase significantly and the number of surgical mistakes would decrease. Surgical errors like this are considered “never events,” meaning that with the execution of proper procedures, they should never occur.

USA Today noted “that help can come from a checklist, much like one routinely used by pilots before every flight.” Just as pilots refer to a checklist to ensure the efficiency of a flight so to should surgeons to ensure the efficiency of a surgery. The checklist in both instances serves as a guide and is ultimately beneficial for all parties involved.

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    I’m surprised that only a 1/3rd of the injuries would be prevented. I would have guessed that it would have at least been 1/2 or greater. Clearly, the large number of people in Georgia with equipment left in them would have been saved.