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How improving time outs may prevent wrong-site surgery

Every week, there are anywhere between 40 and 60 wrong-site surgeries that are performed in Iowa and the rest of the U.S. The most frequent wrong-site surgeries are orthopedic, dental and spinal surgeries. Overall, the most common type of WSS is a laterality surgery, i.e. surgery on a right or left extremity or organ.

As for the factors in WSS, they can be several: inadequate training, unqualified staff, lack of a safety-minded culture, poor teamwork and communication breakdowns (especially during the scheduling phase). When there are no standardized practices for verifying patients in the preoperative area, problems can arise. Another issue can lie with the “time out” that is performed in preparation of the surgery.

Distractions, time constraints and the compartmentalizing of roles (the “silo mentality”) can all lead to an ineffective time out, setting the stage for a WSS. Medical centers should assess these risks and provide regular education to all staff. They should also involve the patient, verifying the procedure to be done and on what site or what side of the body.

When everyone is included in the time out, it can become easier for some to voice concerns. Leaders should then address those concerns immediately, encouraging a safety-minded culture. After observing the time out with some consistency, medical centers can identify areas of improvement.

Without these measures, however, hospitals and medical centers will only continue to raise the risk for errors. As for a WSS victim, they may have good grounds for a medical malpractice claim. Since filing a claim can be a complicated process, it may be wise to see a lawyer before doing anything. The lawyer could request an inquiry with the local medical board and hire third parties to conduct their own investigations.

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