study surgical checklists would reduce medical malpractice

A new study from the Netherlands indicates that surgical checklists should be more widely used in order to prevent unnecessary injuries to surgical patients. Thousands of Americans die each year from medical errors, and a large number of these errors are related to surgery. Following checklists has been shown to reduce the instance of surgical deaths dramatically.

Researchers found that around a third of the medical malpractice claims they examined arose from medical mistakes that would probably have been prevented by following a checklist.

Dr. Atul Gawande of the Harvard School of Public Health, said of the study, “This kind of evidence indicates that surgeons who do not use one of these checklists are endangering patients.” Dr. Gawande is a surgeon who has written frequently on the usefulness of surgical checklists.

Despite the evidence of their effectiveness, though, only around 25% of American hospitals are using surgical checklists.

The study looked at 294 verified instances of medical malpractice from 2004-5. After identifying the primary reasons medical errors took place, the researchers compared those reasons to a surgical checklist called SURPASS that is in use in a number of Dutch hospitals.

The researchers found that 29% of the root causes of successful medical malpractice claims would have been addressed by instructions in SURPASS. Of ten deaths, four had causes that would have been addressed by an item on a SURPASS checklist.

The SURPASS checklists include simple matters such as verifying the operating schedule, verifying that all necessary equipment is available, and even marking a patient’s body to indicate on which side a surgery should be performed.

Routinely and systematically taking relatively simple precautions can dramatically decrease the instance of fatal medical error – and yet some hospitals and clinics seem reluctant to adopt proven checklists. The result? Patients are put at risk. More families may suffer the loss of a loved one. Medical malpractice attorneys in Pennsylvania and around the country are fighting to improve this situation by holding negligent physicians and facilities to account.

Source: Reuters “Surgical checklists might cut malpractice claims” 1/14/2011

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