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Surgical Errors Often Caused by Equipment Issues, Technology: Study

A recent analysis of multiple studies involving operating room errors suggests that about a quarter of all surgical mistakes are caused by problems with equipment or technology used for the procedure. 

In a report published online in the medical journal BMJ Quality and Safety, researchers revealed that nearly 24% of all surgical errors were linked to failures in equipment or technology.

The findings came from a systematic review of scientific studies done on problems that developed in the operating room. The review searched more than 19,000 studies, revealing 28 from which researchers pulled data.

On average, two errors were found for each procedure. The rate increased to more than 15 when independently observed prospective studies were conducted.

Eight studies further subdivided the errors in equipment failure and found 43% were associated with the configuration of the machines or the settings. Another 37% were the result of a lack of equipment availability and 34% of the errors found in these studies were the result of machines malfunctioning.

Four additional studies focused on the severity of the errors made in the operating rooms. One-fifth were classified as “major” errors. More than 13% of those major errors were the result of technical failures and another eight percent were caused by communication problems.

Three studies found that operating rooms where equipment safety checklists were implemented prior to surgery were able to reduce the number of errors by half. The operations that employed equipment specific checklists related directly to the tools or technology used were able to reduce errors by nearly 61%.

“Those procedures that rely more heavily on technology may bear a higher proportion of equipment-related error,” researchers from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at the Imperial College London in the U.K. concluded. “There is clear benefit in the use of preoperative checklist-based systems. We propose the adoption of an equipment check, which may be incorporated into the current WHO checklist.”

Previous studies have indicated medical mistakes affect up to 16% of all patients admitted to hospitals. Nearly half of the medical errors reported are attributed to surgical procedures.

Nearly 98,000 people die in the United States each year as the result of medical errors sustained in hospitals. The rate of errors and deaths increase medical costs, equally a total cost of $29 million dollars each year attributed to mistakes in the operating room.

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