Post-Operative Surgical Mistakes Common: Study

A new study suggests that major elective surgery is often followed by medical mistakes during postoperative care, which may put patients at risk for serious complications. 

In a study published in the Annals of Surgery, researchers from the U.K. found that patients at teaching hospitals can expect to suffer up to five procedural mistakes while they recover, which could result in harm.

These post-operative mistakes commonly include receiving the wrong drugs or drugs delivered the wrong way, being given wrong instructions, or incorrect test results or diagnoses.

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Researchers found that more than half of those so-called “process failures” result in serious harm to patients, and it appears that almost all of them can be prevented.

While many studies have focused on surgical mistakes that occur during surgery, this study focused only on postoperative care. Researchers from the Imperial College in London went to an large gastrointestinal surgery center and observed patients daily from the first postoperative day until discharge by an independent surgeon.

With a total of 659 days of postoperative care observation, researchers found 256 process failures. In 85% of the cases, the process failure was preventable and in 51% of the cases, patients suffered harm as a result.

“Process failures are common in postoperative care, are highly preventable, and frequently cause harm to patients,” the researchers concluded. “Interventions to prevent process failures will improve the reliability of surgical postoperative care and have the potential to reduce hospital stay.”

Medication mistakes were the most common mistake, along with the management of lines, tubes and drains. Pain control interventions were also a major source of mistakes. Communications problems were the main reason for such process failures in 54% of the cases reviewed.


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