Acting methodically, exercising diligence and avoiding distractions are some of the best ways to prevent surgical errors, according to recommendations released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). An ACOG committee tackled the issue of surgical errors to coincide with efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint Commission designed to highlight this oft-overlooked patient danger.

Checklists Are a Great Tool

It is the opinion of the ACOG - and other medical organizations - that a key component in performing safer operations is to carefully draft checklists that address every step of the process in minute detail. By having a physical tool to guide them, patients and doctors alike gain both peace of mind and a sense of control over the surgery, leading to better results all around. Checklists not only ensure that vital steps have been taken in the right order, but they also prevent careless errors that could cause catastrophic results. Even the seemingly obvious, like operating on the wrong body part, happens with frightening regularity - 116 times across the country in the year 2008, according to the Joint Commission. By simply checking the body part pursuant to the checklist, the team is acting to make the patient safer.

Avoiding Multi-Tasking Keeps Patients Safer

Distractions in the operating room must be avoided whenever possible. Some distractions are inevitable, particularly in emergency situations, but by limiting non-essential distractions like optional phone calls, beepers, casual conversations and music, the attention stays where it belongs - on the patient.

Rest Is Not an Option - It Is a Necessity

Perhaps just as important as the surgical team avoiding distractions is that they be well-rested and well-fed. Fatigue and hunger are hugely distracting, and they both cause a loss of alertness and slowed reaction times. The idea of having only well-rested staff members is a novel one in the medical community, where 36-hour shifts have been seen as both a badge of honor and a rite of passage, but it is definitely one whose time has come. Studies have been done in every industry showing how detrimental fatigue is to function; fatigue can result in reaction times slower than those caused by alcohol intoxication.

Checklists, adequate training, patient involvement, avoiding distractions, having emergency protocols in place and being well-rested: all of these are excellent practices that help reduce the rate and severity of surgical errors. Unfortunately, not every medical facility around the country has such protocols in place. Until that day, it is likely that surgical errors will continue. If you or a loved one has suffered injury due to a surgery-related mistake, you should consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.