Let’s explore the human dangers of surgery. When you break a bone, you usually need surgery to repair it. As you meet with the surgeon and discuss the procedure and its recovery, you rarely think about the dangers present in all surgeries – regardless of how minor or how well trained the surgeon. Not even counting the unavoidable, but manageable medical risks (anesthesia, etc.), there are inherent risks and human dangers of surgery. Between the surgeon, the surgical team, and the prep team, there could be a dozen people responsible for different aspects of your care, and they all need to function as a cohesive unit or it could result in harm to the patient.
Outpatientsurgery.net and Outpatient Magazine did a multi-part study about the human dangers of surgery during operations. Human errors can occur at any time, and hospitals and doctors are always devising new procedures to minimize them. Some steps have included checklists, “time outs,” multiple individuals responsible for different safety checks, and increased awareness and vigilance among all surgical professionals on patient safety issues. This has led to a steady decline of human-error incidents in most surgical situations, but there is still work to be done.
Dr. Bill Berry told a story of going in for surgery on his left foot. The day before the surgery, he signed the consent forms, and only realized that the signed a consent form for the WRONG foot after his wife noticed it. In that case, a surgical safety expert could have fallen victim to a simple human error if his wife had not caught it. “And the double checks that every surgical team is asked to perform wouldn’t have caught the mistake,” points out Dr. Berry. “A time out would have reinforced the wrong site. The potential for harm was generated in the clinic.”
“‘Surgical professionals need to be mindful of safety procedures and the principles of highly reliable delivery of care,’ says Lorri Gibbons, RN, MS, vice president of quality and safety for the South Carolina Hospital Association. ‘When you become more reliable, you decrease the risks of errors and the harm they can cause,’ she adds. In other words, you don’t necessarily stop mistakes from happening, but you prevent the potentially harmful ramifications from reaching the patient.”
In the end, it is theoretically possible for human errors in surgery to be a thing of the past, but it requires changes in workplace culture (less pressure to generate revenue, fewer surgeries, more nurses, etc.), changes in safety systems, and perhaps increased assistance from technology.