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Study: Post-surgical errors cause injury, death

In a recent study on the frequency and effects of post-operative errors, researchers uncovered some startling information. Not only does such surgical malpractice occur, but it is actually fairly common. What is most unsettling, however, is the fact that post-surgical errors cause additional injury or illness - and sometimes even death - in more than 50 percent of the situations in which they occur.

In the study, researchers monitored 50 surgical patients at a large teaching hospital over the course of two years. All of the patients had undergone non-emergency surgery on their digestive tract. The researchers found that a total of 352 mistakes were made in those 50 patients' post-operative treatment. This means that each patient experienced an average of four to five mistakes following their surgical procedure.

Common errors include improper drug administration, lack of timely delivery of test results and insufficient patient instructions. The researchers found that more than half of those post-operative mistakes caused patients' hospital stay to be extended.

The researchers also found than 250 of the post-surgical errors were caused by "process failures," which included delays in patient assessment or treatment and lack of sufficient communication between hospital staff members, among other things. Because of the nature of those failures, researchers concluded that 85 percent of them were largely preventable.

This study makes it clear that hospitals need to do more to prevent post-surgical errors. The researchers recommend two methods for doing so. First, they say that read-backs, in which medical providers repeat one another's instructions in order to ensure that they are communicated accurately, could significantly improve communication between doctors and nurses. Second, they say that using surgical checklists could cause up to a 50 percent decline in surgery-related infections.

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

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