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Safety culture important in reducing surgical errors

Hospitals in Arizona and around the country might avoid mistakes by focusing just as much on non-technical safety as on surgeons' skills. According to a study originally presented at the American Medical Research Symposium in 2014 and published in the "Journal of American College of Surgeons," skills such as teamwork and communication are important in creating an overall safety culture within a hospital that reduces the likelihood of errors.

The study looked at surgical site infections following colon procedures at seven hospitals in Minnesota. Twelve safety factors were identified, and 10 influenced the likelihood of surgical site infections. These included teamwork within and across units, communication openness as well as feedback and communicating regarding error and avoiding punitive responses to error, how frequently events were reported, support from management regarding patient safety, and learning within the organization. Staffing and transfer of care did not appear to be factors.

Teamwork across units was the least significant of those factors. Good communication and feedback following errors was the most significant. According to researchers, surgeons have long been aware of the importance of safety culture in avoiding mistakes, and the study supports that.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for someone who needs surgery or urgent medical care to evaluate the safety culture of a hospital. A person may suffer complications as the result of a medical error like wrong-site surgery, surgical equipment left inside a patient or other mistakes. As a result, the person's prognosis may worsen. Medical expenses may rise. If this occurs, the patient or their loved ones might want to speak to an attorney about the advisability of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the negligent health care practitioner or facility.

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