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Study: Post-surgical errors are common and cause significant harm

If one of your family members or loved ones have recently undergone a surgical procedure, you were probably focused on and worried about the actual surgery. "If [he or she] makes it through the surgery," you may have thought, "we will be in the clear."

But that may not be the case, according to a new medical malpractice study. Most surgery patients experience upwards of four procedural mistakes during their post-surgery care, including errors in drug administration, failure to deliver test results and giving inaccurate patient instructions. Alarmingly, more than half of those errors cause patients to suffer real, lasting harm.

In the study, researchers monitored 50 surgical patients that underwent non-emergency surgery on the digestive tract at a large teaching hospital. They found that medical providers made 352 mistakes in the post-operative treatment of those 50 patients. More than 250 of those errors were caused by "process failures," which primarily consisted of delays in patient assessment or treatment and failures in communication between staff members.

The researchers concluded that a staggering 85 percent of those process failures were preventable. They recommend that hospitals implement additional safety features, such as instruction read-backs and surgical checklists, in order to avoid those failures.

But these preventative measures will not solve the problem on their own, study co-author Charles Vincent told Reuters. "Checklists are unlikely to prevent all failures in this study as a patient's post-operative treatment is highly variable and therefore not easily covered by a single checklist," he said. "Protocols alone cannot keep patients safe, we need a culture of safety."

Source: Reuters, "Study finds errors in post-surgery care are common," Kerry Grens, Oct. 2, 2012

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