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How are surgical errors being prevented?

Every individual going into surgery knows that there are risks that come with the process. Some relief can come through knowing that the overseeing physicians have years of medical experience and knowledge. However, the availability of widespread knowledge was not always as accessible as one might hope.

Prior to the 1999 Institute of Medicine report, no information was available to clinicians regarding the number of surgery-associated injuries, such as wrong-site surgery or procedures performed on the wrong patient. Without a process for reporting and tracking these occurrences, physicians were often in the dark. The 1999 report helped raise awareness of the issue, leading to reformations in the medical field to improve surgical quality.

Additional procedures have been instituted to help reduce the number of mistakes. These include having patients mark the correct surgical site, sometimes even adding an additional "No" on the incorrect site. New checklists for patients and procedure verifications are also in place. Additionally, common procedure includes the surgical team taking a "time out" immediately before the procedure in order to verify the correct patient, procedure and site.

Despite new procedures aimed at reducing surgical incidents, errors sometimes still occur. A surgeon mistake can have a devastating impact on a patient, as well as the surgical team. Consequences for botched surgeries sometimes include a denial of insurance payment to the doctor for procedures ending in surgical errors.

In addition to hospital and insurer-based penalties, the physician may be held liable in a medical malpractice lawsuit. These lawsuits help compensate for the emotional toll as well as ease the financial burden that may fall on a patient after a botched surgery. Even patients who signed a valid medical consent form prior to the procedure can still recover damages. Such forms do not release a physician from liability after negligence. An attending doctor is always held to the standard of care of a physician with similar level of skill in the same community, under similar circumstances.

Source: www.ahrq.gov, "Wrong-Site Surgery: A Preventable Medical Error," Accessed Jan. 6, 2015

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