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How surgical time-outs can help prevent horrible medical mistakes

Even with many years of formal medical education and potentially years of professional experience, surgeons still make mistakes while operating on their patients. Surgical never events (mistakes that should never happen) affect thousands of people in the United States every year, and they often result in tragedy or severe medical hardship.

Having a doctor perform the wrong procedure or operate on the wrong side of your body can be a devastating medical mistake. Surgeons leaving items behind in patients and similar egregious errors are typically preventable with the appropriate safety protocols. Many medical organizations recommend a preoperative time-out.

How does a time-out in the operating theater help protect a patient?

It requires affirmative identification and procedure verification

The point of a time-out when everyone is in place before the surgery begins is to have everybody in the operating theater ensure that they are truly ready for the procedure. The process typically involves validating the identity of the patient, verifying which procedure they have the operating theater ready for and double-checking which medical records to ensure there is no confusion.

A final accounting of all of the tools and materials in the room can also be important for verifying what is present after the procedure. Although preoperative time-outs may only require a few minutes, they can drastically reduce the likelihood of someone experiencing a surgical never event.

Surgeons who feel rushed or burned out may make mistakes

Taking a brief time-out before initiating the surgery gives everyone a moment to collect themselves and prepare for the likely intense procedure ahead. Unfortunately, despite the use of time-outs being beneficial for patients and medical professionals alike, many surgical teams do not properly perform them.

Heavy pressure on surgical professionals to complete numerous operations in a short amount of time may leave them feeling like they can’t indulge in secondary and tertiary safety checks. Unfortunately, when those safeguards aren’t utilized, patients are the ones that end up suffering. Undergoing the wrong procedure or suffering a surgical error of a similar caliber will inevitably mean increased medical expenses and often a much worse long-term prognosis.

Learning more about surgical errors and other forms of medical malpractice can help you be a better advocate for yourself and for the people you love.