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Pre-operation tips for avoiding surgical errors

Losing a loved one during surgery is one of the most traumatic things a family can go through. But finding out later that a surgical mistake was the reason for the death can deal the family an even greater blow. The family often initially is in shock or disbelief and can end up feeling betrayed by the hospital or surgeon(s).

One woman whose adult daughter died in 2009 after contracting several infections during a hospital stay said the surgical errors “cast a very, very long shadow. What was supposed to be a safe place turned out to be a very dangerous place,” the woman said. She found out three months after losing her daughter that two nursing errors were related to the death.

The woman said that it was hard to wrap her head around the fact that her daughter’s death was preventable. As in many cases involing medical mistakes, the errors were caused by breakdowns in communication. Hospitals are a high-stress environment and miscommunication – or failure to communicate effectively – can lead to catastropic results.

Although patients and their families do not have the ability to prevent all surgical and medical errors, there are some things that can be done to help thwart them. Here are several tips for pre-surgery preparation from The Empowered Patient Coalition:

– Find out as much as you can about the procedure, including whether or not it’s necessary, the risks, success rate, and the recovery process.

– Know who is going to be performing the surgery, and check out the surgeon’s credentials.

– Look into the hospital’s history and ratings at

– If possible, scedule the procedure for early in the day in early in the week, when errors are less likely to occur.

– Find out if a medical assistant or resident will be particpating in your surgery and who will be overseeing your care.

– Confirm the information on the patient identification band to make sure the right procedure is being performed on the right patient.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Medical errors leave devastating impact on families, professionals,” Blythe Bernhard, May 5, 2013