In response to the alarmingly high rates of preventable medical errors in the U.S. health care system, the Joint Commission created a Universal Protocol – a checklist of steps to take in medical procedures. The nonprofit group, which accredits health care programs and organizations, devised the checklist to help medical care providers avoid mistakes.
The 2004 Universal Protocol calls for common-sense procedures like having medical care providers sign in; recognizing the site of an operation; and using time-outs before, during and after surgery. The protocol has met with success.
Another plan, the World Health Organization’s “Safe Surgery Saves Lives” checklist, provides questions to be asked at critical points in surgery. Before, during and after surgery, health care personnel must ensure that proper procedures have been followed. It was reported in 2009 that the checklist had lowered the rate of surgical errors, complications and deaths by over 30 percent.
Recent Study Shows Progress Still Must Be Made
These plans and others, however, have not yet been able to help doctors, nurses and others avoid all preventable medical errors. A recent study by the Denver Health Medical Center showed that surgical mistakes continue.
The lead author of the 2002-08 study said that he was shocked by the numbers. Doctors had operated on the wrong site or the wrong patient numerous times during the study period. Although the author could not say whether an increase in mistakes or reporting was responsible for the numbers, it is clear that preventable medical mistakes continue.
What Patients Can Do
No matter what procedures doctors and nurses follow, the fact remains that they are human, and people make mistakes. This is where patients themselves come in. Patients who are strong advocates for themselves are more likely to see positive outcomes – in terms of learning the meaning of test results, understanding their medications and simply getting doctors to wash their hands.
Patients who are about to undergo surgery, or any other medical procedure, should ask questions of their medical care provider. Once they understand the answers, they should repeat them to the doctor to make sure they share that understanding.
It is even helpful for patients to write on their own bodies to show which side should be operated on. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for surgeons to operate on the wrong side of a patient.
Be vigilant in protecting your health; you could prevent medical errors and save your life.
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