If you know someone scheduled for surgery, then you should find comfort in knowing that there is a Universal Protocol in place. It outlines a set procedure doctors should follow to reduce the risk of operating either on the wrong site or person or performing the wrong procedure.

The first in the three step process involves conducting a pre-procedure. Whenever possible, the doctor should take caution to engage the patient in verifying not only his or her name, but the procedure he or she is having done as well as the site where it is to be performed.

All necessary paperwork should also be present at this time including such documentation as preanesthesia reports, a medical history or physical, signed consent forms and radiology, pathology or biopsy results. It’s also important that any blood, special equipment or medical devices that may be needed are accounted for as well.

The next step that should be followed is marking the spot where the procedure will take place. It’s important that this act not only involve the patient whenever possible, but that it be done by the doctor who will actually be performing the procedure in the operating room himself.

Even in instances in which an attending physician allows another individual to handle the marking process, the lead doctor is ultimately responsible for any surgical errors that occur. For areas that cannot be easily marked, it’s recommended that doctors follow their organizational policy with respect to those cases.

The final step of the Universal Protocol involves performing a time-out. This serves as the final opportunity the individual medical professionals that comprise the surgical team to come together and share with another that proper verification of the patient, procedure and location have been made.

In cases in which a patient is scheduled to have not one, but instead two different procedures, it’s important that the team reconvenes ahead of each individual procedure to complete the time-out process. It is also important that the team document the completion of this step for use should any allegations of surgical error arise.

Not following Universal Protocol can result in surgical errors that can ultimately cause serious injury or death. If you suspect you have fallen victim to a scenario in which procedures outlined above were not adequately followed, a New Mexico medical malpractice attorney can provide advice and guidance in your legal matter.

Source: The Joint Commission, “The Universal Protocol for Preventing Wrong Site, Wrong Procedure, and Wrong Person Surgery,” accessed Feb. 17, 2017