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Do Surgical Checklists Reduce Medical Error?

Posted in Personal Injury on November 7, 2019

Few industries are more heavily regulated than health care. With patients’ lives on the line, the health care industry is stringent in terms of procedures, guidelines, protocols and safety regulations. Unfortunately, medical errors still occur. Surgical mistakes can cause serious personal injuries, health complications and patient deaths. While industry standards do not ask that surgeons never make mistakes, they do ask surgeons to always act according to their legal obligations to patients. This obligation may include using a checklist to reduce the risk of errors.

Common Medical Errors in Surgery

Every year, patients bring thousands of medical malpractice claims against physicians, hospitals and other health care defendants for negligence-related errors in patient care. Medical malpractice during surgery can cause injuries such as nerve damage, brain damage, unnecessary scars, heart attack, stroke, internal organ damage and infections. Patients could file claims for medical malpractice against a surgeon, nurse or surgical center for many different acts of negligence.

  • Lack of informed consent
  • Intubation errors
  • Incorrect amount or mixture of anesthesia
  • Never events (wrong site, wrong patient, wrong surgery)
  • Injuring or severing a nerve
  • Nicking an artery
  • Causing internal bleeding/hemorrhaging
  • Failing to monitor the patient’s vital signs
  • Failing to respond appropriately in an emergency
  • Retained surgical items after surgery
  • Improper post-operative care

Surgical errors may qualify as medical malpractice if a prudent surgeon reasonably would not have made the same mistake under the same circumstances. If a surgeon or another health care practitioner in the operating room was negligent, and this negligence contributed to the patient’s injuries or death, the practitioner could be guilty of malpractice. The injured party may then be able to argue that with proper care and preparation, his or her damages would not have occurred, giving the patient the right to receive financial compensation for medical malpractice.

The Importance of Surgical Checklists

A surgical checklist could have the power to prevent many of the most common types of surgical errors and medical malpractice. A checklist could help a surgical staff prepare before an operation, verify the identity of the patient, take all proper steps during the procedure, and account for all tools and materials before closing the patient up. It could be what makes the difference between a poor patient outcome and a successful procedure.

In the last several years, hospitals and surgical centers have increasingly relied upon checklists to help prevent surgical mistakes. General safety checklists can make sure hospitals meet all of a patient’s needs. Having a checklist could force a surgical staff to slow down, think things over and doublecheck for accuracy before making the first incision, even if the surgeon has performed the same procedure a hundred times.

A surgical checklist can have a number of safeguards to help prevent potential errors such as operating on the incorrect patient or the wrong side of the body. Going through each item on the checklist can make sure the surgeon does not miss anything important, such as removing surgical scissors or gauze pads before stitching the patient up. While hospitals have reported varying degrees of success using surgical checklists, the overall consensus is that checklists can reduce the risk of patient mortality.

The WHO Surgical Safety Checklist

One checklist hospitals across the globe have begun to use is the World Health Organization (WHO) surgical checklist. WHO created this checklist after extensively researching errors and adverse events in operating rooms. The checklist prioritizes communication and teamwork among surgical teams. It contains 19 items, with questions the surgeon should ask before the induction of anesthesia, before the first incision and before the patient leaves the operating room.

WHO collected evidence from the surgeries of almost 4,000 patients performed using its checklist. It found the list dramatically improved both surgical processes and patient outcomes. Based on this evidence, hospitals can safely assume implementing a surgical checklist could reduce the risk of medical errors.

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