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Can a One-Page Checklist Ensure the Safety of Surgical Patients?

Since patient conditions differ in so many ways, surgical teams must make any number of on-the-spot decisions to help create the best possible outcome and save lives. Expecting a perfect outcome under these circumstances is not realistic. Still, across the U.S., a continuing high rate of preventable surgical errors occur each year.

All too often, surgical patients call our Charlotte medical malpractice lawyers after succumbing to fully-preventable surgical errors. We believe that any type of checklist that helps prevent obvious errors is beneficial to patients and their medical providers. However, we also question whether a commonly-used one-page checklist is enough to do the job effectively.

The Current Checklist is Not Comprehensive

A statement at the bottom of the Surgical Safety Checklist provided by the World Health Organization points out that it is intended for use as a foundation document that needs to be enhanced to fit local practices.

The concern here is that not all medical providers have the skill or forethought to modify a checklist that essentially only covers the following basic considerations:

  • Sign in procedures involve such practices as checking the patient’s identity, marking the surgical site, checking for allergies, making anesthesia decisions and several other common pre-surgical practices.
  • Time out procedures occur immediately before surgery begins. In addition to confirming that team members know each other and confirming that the correct surgical procedure will be performed on the right patient at the right surgical site, the team reviews any unusual considerations for the specific case.
  • Sign out procedures document the name of the procedure, the instrument, sponge and needle counts before and after the procedure and other issues that need to be addressed.

This checklist helps to prevent errors of commission, which essentially refers to making procedural mistakes; however, in one recent article, a surgeon maintains that better checklists are required to help prevent errors of omission, which can involve forgetting to give pre-operative antibiotics or take other important steps. The article maintains that checklists initiated before the operating room phase (as early as the first time a patient seeks medical attention) can reduce errors of omission and significantly improve patient safety.

Identifying Surgical Errors of Omission Can Require Significant Investigation

When surgical teams do not rely on comprehensive checklists, resulting errors of omission can have major consequences to patients. Without the right reporting required by checklists, surgical teams may continue to repeat mistakes in future surgeries because they cannot clearly recognize avoidable causes of past adverse surgical outcomes.

Long before arriving at surgical appointments, patients can help protect themselves by having frank discussions with their surgeons and other medical providers to discuss checklists and other safeguards used to protect against basic errors.

However, with the understanding that not every patient injury points to medical negligence, anyone with concerns can seek guidance from a medical malpractice attorney who can help assess a case and use investigative resources to help identify the likelihood of negligence. Call us at 844-452-3688 or use our convenient online contact form to learn how we can help.