On our Massachusetts medical malpractice blog, we have detailed several instances of surgical errors that resulted in lasting harm to the patient involved or which, in some tragic situations, caused the patient’s death. But these potentially-fatal mistakes do not always take place during the actual surgical procedure itself. Often, surgical errors occur during the patient’s post-surgical care, when they are recovering from the procedure and are at their most vulnerable. And according to a recent study, these mistakes happen more than most of us would like to believe.

In study, researchers monitored 50 surgical patients that underwent non-emergency surgery on the digestive tract at the same hospital over the course of two years. They found that a total of 352 mistakes were made in the post-operative treatment of those 50 patients, more than 250 of which were caused by what they referred to as “process failures.”

It appears that those “process failures” were often extremely avoidable. The mistakes noted by researchers included delays in patient assessment or treatment and lack of sufficient communication between hospital staff members, among other things. In sum, the researchers concluded that a staggering 85 percent of them were largely preventable.

The researchers suggested a few easy procedures which they say will significantly reduce such errors. One example is read-backs, in which doctors and nurses repeat one another’s instructions in order to ensure that they are communicated accurately. Another is the use of surgical checklists to ensure that no step is missed in patients’ care.

Hopefully, hospitals in Massachusetts and all across the country see this surgery and make the recommended changes in order to protect their vulnerable post-surgical patients.

Source: Reuters, “Study finds errors in post-surgery care are common,” Kerry Grens, Oct. 2, 2012