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Study reveals that surgical errors remain a problem

New Mexico residents may be aware that the medical community has worked earnestly in recent years to reduce the number of mistakes made during surgery. The Universal Protocol was introduced a decade ago to provide a safety standard for surgical procedures, but research published on June 10 in the medical journal JAMA Surgery indicates that there is still work to be done.

The study was conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to evaluate the impact of the Universal Protocol. Researchers analyzed 138 studies about what experts refer to as never events published between 2004 and 2014, and they concluded that many surgical mistakes occur due to poor communication in the operating room. Researchers say that surgical team members are often reluctant to speak up, and they are frequently ignored when they do voice concerns.

The researchers focused on mistakes that involved leaving sponges or other foreign objects inside patients or performing surgery on the wrong part of a patient's body. These mistakes are referred to as never events by medical professionals because they should never take place. Finding consistent data about these medical errors was a challenge for the researchers, and they recommend that more efficient tracking methods by employed by hospitals to document both never events and near misses.

While efforts to improve patient safety should be welcomed, meaningful change may be difficult to achieve. Studies have shown that hospitals and doctors often seek to conceal their mistakes because they fear that their reputations will be tarnished or medical malpractice lawsuits will be filed against them. Attorneys with experience in this area will likely have encountered doctors or hospital administrators unwilling to take responsibility for mistakes made during surgery, and they may call upon medical experts who do not have a stake in the outcome of litigation to provide a more balanced perspective.

Source: American Medical News, "Fear of punitive response to hospital errors lingers", Kevin B. O'Reilly Feb. 20, 2012

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