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In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced its Surgical Safety Checklist, a patient tool designed to improve safety and reduce the incidence of errors and complications. Since its introduction, scientific evidence has supported the use of checklists as a component of patient care. While the WHO checklist has not been universally implemented, a study published in the April 2011 edition of the Annals of Surgery proves the promise of the process.

In trying to improve patient outcomes and reduce the risk of medical malpractice, the Surgical Patient Safety System (SURPASS) checklist was developed. Considering relevant literature and validated observations in the field of surgery, SURPASS covers the entire surgical pathway from admission to discharge. In their study, Dr. Eefje N. de Vries and others reviewed medical malpractice claim data from the largest Dutch insurance company. Evaluating surgical complications and outcomes, the researchers concluded that had the SURPASS checklist been used, 40 percent of deaths and 29 percent of incidents leading to permanent damage could have been prevented.

The 18-page SURPASS checklist consists of more than just patient data. Among the categories in the comprehensive list are a reference of complications, medical personnel-specific completion percentages, location-specific tasks and questions that cover staff as well as patient interactions.

Beyond checklists, the number of medical errors can be reduced in other ways. Experts believe that greater patient involvement is one such way. Becoming educated on medications and methods, researching facilities and seeking clarity on post-operative or discharge instructions are just some of the ways by which a patient can protect himself or herself.

While a last resort in some cases, surgery is often the only procedure that can alleviate disabilities, repair injuries and reduce the risk of death. However, medical errors can cause even worse complications than the intended intervention was meant to treat. Patients should be aware that when adverse medical events occur, they have the right to seek damages for medical expenses, wage loss, reductions in quality of life and pain and suffering.

Five to 10 surgical errors occur daily in the United States. Surgical complications or error incidents can result in permanent injury, infection, increased medical costs and even death. While surgical intervention is a very common therapy, medical professionals and facilities should seek a means to reduce the chance of human errors that result in human losses. Checklists and other methods will only help in this mission.