Surgical Errors: Should You Re-think Surgery?

The decision to undergo surgery can be difficult to make, as it involves placing your life into someone else's hands. Patients want to trust their doctors, but in a recent survey of 917 members of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and NASS initiative, more than half reported observing surgical errors within the past six months.

The most commonly reported errors related to problems with equipment, comprising 29% of incidents. Often, it was the instrumentation that was reported to cause error, about twice as often as implants (63% compared to 32%). Errors related to implants usually involved a missing or wrong implant.

Communication errors made up 25% of the responses, involving written, verbal or dictated information or failure to communicate altogether. 33% of these errors resulted in negative outcomes to the patient (delayed surgery, etc.) while 47% resulted in no harm to the patient.

Twenty-seven reports were of wrong-site surgery; 59% were wrong side. Other problems included the correct side but wrong location, wrong procedure or rarely, a wrong patient.

The most serious errors reported involved medication, occurring in eight patients. Of these eight patients, two errors resulted in death, four patients required life-sustaining intervention and two patients sustained permanent harm.

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This study proves that doctors can make errors and the AAOS has developed programs to decrease the frequency of such errors. For example, the Sign Your Site program encourages surgeons to initial the procedure site to help reduce the incidence of wrong-site surgeries. The program also encourages doctors to call a “time out” prior to making the incision to double check equipment, records, allergies to medications, etc.

Although the study showed that about half of all errors do not result in harm to the patient, it also demonstrated that there is need for improvement. Relatively simple measures can be taken to greatly improve patient safety in the operating room.

If you are considering surgery realize that there are steps you can take with your doctor to insure that none of these surgical errors occur when you are under the knife. We published these statistics as a means of informing our readers because the more informed you are the better questions you will ask and the more successful your surgery will be.

Original Surgical Errors article from Health Point Capital.

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