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Surgical Checklists Can Prevent Surgical Errors

Five to 10 surgical errors occur daily in the United States. Surgical complications or incidents of error can result in permanent injury, infection, increased medical costs and even death. In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced its Surgical Safety Checklist, a patient safety tool that was designed to improve safety and reduce incidence of errors and complications. Since its introduction, scientific evidence has supported the use of checklists as a component of patient care. Earlier this year, an “Annals of Surgery” study supported the implementation of the SURgical PAtient Safety System (SURPASS) checklist.

In the April 2011 edition of the “Annals of Surgery,” Dr. Eefje N. de Vries of the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam, and others, reviewed¬†medical malpractice¬†claim data from 294 insurance claims filed between 2004 and 2005. These researchers found that if the SURPASS checklist have been utilized, 40 percent of deaths and 29 percent of incidents leading to permanent damage could have been prevented.

In another study, Dr. de Vries also evaluated thousands of cases pre- and post-implementation of the checklist. Reviewing data from a number of hospitals from 2007 to 2009, the researchers also confirmed that post implementation, surgical complications dramatically declined.

SURPASS, an 18-page checklist, collects more than just patient data, and covers a process other than just surgery. The comprehensive checklist includes notations of complications, location-specific tasks, medical personnel-specific completion percentages, and questions that cover staff as well as patient interactions. When reviewing claims involving deaths, the researchers found that at least 29 percent of the contributing factors were addressed in the comprehensive tool.

While health care reform has taken a sideline to the national debt, health care costs are still a significant issue. Medical liability costs the nation more than $55 billion annually-2.4 percent of the health care spending.

During the course of evaluating the medical needs of a patient, surgery is generally a last resort. Still, surgery is often the only procedure that can alleviate disabilities, repair injuries and reduce risk of death; however, medical errors can result in complications worse than those the procedures are intended to prevent.

Tens of thousands of Americans die annually as a result of medical errors. Surgical interventions are common medical therapy that can increase risks for medical errors. Medical professionals and facilities can implement protocols, such as SURPASS, that reduce the possibility of human mistakes and control the cost of health care.