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Surgical checklists have defenders and detractors

Colorado residents may be surprised when they find out how often some serious surgical errors are committed in operating rooms across the country. One technique is being used to ensure that they don't happen, but some new research is questioning its effectiveness.

Wrong side surgery and other errors are a bigger problem that patients would like to think. Some researchers estimate that there are over 4,000 such serious errors every year in the U.S. Sometimes these errors are caught, but often they are not. One doctor published research that seemed to have the answer. He said that using simple checklists before, during and after surgery could cut down on these errors that resulted from omitting steps in the process. The conclusion of the research was that these checklists could result in a significant reduction in the number of deaths from surgical errors.

Now, another study is questioning the effectiveness of the surgical checklists. The research involves hospitals in Ontario, Canada, where checklists are mandated at 101 locations. The study found that there was no statistically significant reduction in complications or deaths in surgery. However, the author of the original checklist study is questioning the results. He notes a lack of tracking of how many surgeons actually complied with the checklists, citing his previous findings in the United Kingdom that only 9 percent of surgeons were following all critical steps of the list.

However effective the checklists may be, there is still the question of responsibility for a serious surgery mistake. When these mistakes lead to permanent injury or death due to a careless surgeon, that surgeon and the hospital that employs them could be liable for these damages. An attorney with experience in medical malpractice may be able to help bring a lawsuit for the recovery of damages from the responsible parties.

Source: The Atlantic, "Save a Brain, Make a Checklist", James Hamblin, March 17, 2014

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