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What can you do to protect yourself from surgical errors?

Entering a hospital or outpatient surgery center to undergo a procedure can be an understandably unnerving process. That's because you are not only worried about whether the operation will prove successful, but also whether you may fall victim to some sort of medical malpractice.

While the odds are generally good that your surgery will go as planned, it's nevertheless important to understand that surgical errors can and do occur. However, it's also important to understand that you are not at the mercy of the surgical team and that you can protect yourself.

According to the Joint Commission, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that patients enjoy "the safest, highest quality, best-value health care across all settings," there are some basic steps that patients can take to help prevent surgical errors and other medical mistakes.

While a complete breakdown of the Joint Commission's recommendations are clearly beyond the scope of a single blog post, here are a few of the more salient points:

Pre-surgery appointment

  • Ensure that you and your physician discuss the applicable cut off time for eating and drinking.
  • Discuss your current medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) with your physician and whether you should take them prior to the surgery.
  • Take time to write down any questions you have prior to your pre-surgery appointment and go through them with your physician.

Prior to the procedure

  • Make arrangements to have someone you trust take you to the hospital/surgical center, and act as your advocate while you are sedated or unable to effectively communicate.
  • Verify that the spot marked by a member of the surgical team for the operation site is accurate and, if this marking occurs while you are sedated, have your advocate ensure the placement is correct.
  • Inquire as to whether the surgical team will gather for a "time out" prior to starting in order to confirm such vital information as patient identity, surgery being performed and operation site.

The unfortunate reality is that you may still find yourself victimized by medical negligence despite your best efforts. When this happens, however, it's extremely important to consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can explain your rights and options, and fight for justice on your behalf.   

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