Safety protocols to prevent surgical error

Medical error is one of the leading causes of death and serious injury in Hawaii and other states. Surgical errors are especially prevalent, and healthcare facilities have put safety procedures in place to help prevent more of these mistakes from happening.

According to Medscape, two common medical errors that changed the standard of care include amputation errors and sponge and instrument counts. To prevent wrong-site surgeries, specific preoperative procedures were put into place. These include:

  • Marking the correct surgical site
  • Engaging the patient in marking the spot
  • Ensuring the entire surgical team double-checks the relevant information prior to beginning procedure

Leaving a foreign object, such as sponge, surgical instrument or needle, in the body occurs in around 12.5% of cases, and it can lead to serious infection. Establishing accurate and standardized counting procedures is one way to prevent this from occurring. Some sponges also are made with threads that can be identified via bar coding, x-rays or radiofrequency identification systems.

Along with wrong-site errors, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports other serious and preventable mistakes include those with the wrong patient and the wrong procedure. One way to prevent these errors is clear communication among all members of the healthcare team. Implementing a surgical timeout before the procedure begins allows everyone to review details of the surgery and communicate any concerns. Surgical safety checklists can also cut down on serious errors. These checklists include safety-related protocols for during the surgery as well as post-operative. While executing these safety procedures can help decrease the number of mistakes, they still can occur especially in rushed and emergency situations.