Friday, March 13, 2009


How do we choose where to have surgery? There is no easy answer. In most cases, we go where our doctor works or, if there is a choice, the hospital that we think has the best reputation. We can look up information on their infection rates or ask a nurse we know who works there, but none of these guarantee a “good” outcome to our surgery.

I had the opportunity to speak at a hospital in NY yesterday during Patient Safety Awareness Week and was very impressed with the attendance and audience participation. I was doubly impressed when I was greeted by the nurse in charge of surgery – before surgery, during surgery and after surgery, is how he explained what he is responsible for.

He told me about their “time out” which is done before a procedure so the medical team can check if they have the correct patient, if they are doing the correct procedure and if other safety measures are in place.

I was given a sign titled “Universal Protocol Time Out” with a script to be utilized before each procedure. It has the patient’s name, type of surgery or procedure and side or extremity with other check list information.

Any “no” answer it reads, stops the process. Not unlike a pilot in the cockpit, this sort of teamwork can really make patient feel confident and when done correctly, will make this part of the procedure a success 100% of the time.

I was given a Time Out pen that is given to patients to be sure the site of surgery is marked. I want terribly to open the seemingly sterile wrapper but instead, will keep it a souvenir.

The Time Out and marking the site of surgery are just a very few of the Joint Commission standards and basic safety tips. But, when a facility takes it seriously enough to put resources behind it, to be sure the medical teams have everything needed to make it fool proof, they should be recognized for taking patient safety seriously.

Was one person to slip, and forget to follow the standard procedures, the system may not work and patients, and their families may suffer. This is how I believe we should be choosing a hospital to have surgery but too bad we are usually not given this information. Maybe for Patient Safety Awareness Week next year this hospital will tell their patients how safety conscious they are so the patients can be that much more involved in choosing a hospital.

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