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Could tracking training errors turn out better surgeons?

When an orthopedic surgeon makes an error on a patient, that patient's life can be turned upside down. Catastrophic injuries can result from the slip of a scalpel -- or a misdiagnosis.

It's always better to prevent medical errors than to attempt to mitigate the resulting damage. To that end, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's attempted to assess the skill levels of potential orthopedic surgeons as they progressed through their training.

To do this, they monitored the performance of the surgical trainees as they practiced their skills on cadavers. The researchers discovered that using checklists and measuring the general skill levels was most helpful when combined with a stringent error-tracking system.

One of the Johns Hopkins orthopedic surgery professors stated, "The takeaway message is that checklists of procedural steps are a good way to assess the technical skills of these surgical residents. But they don't measure quality, highlighting a need to measure and give feedback on errors as part of the training."

She added that many training models measure only the volume of a surgical resident's cases without accurately assessing the skill level. Since residents' working hours have been capped to prevent errors attributed to exhaustion, it has also limited some learning opportunities.

One goal of orthopedic surgical training should be to prepare residents to be able to handle any contingencies they may encounter when operating on their patients. Tracking errors may help pinpoint areas in which they need additional training and/or practice.

This is an encouraging development, as doctors across the board typically have not been encouraged to focus on mistakes in the past. In fact, by instituting a rigid pass/fail system, there are fewer chances for orthopedic surgeons who aren't yet fully trained to slip through the cracks and pose potential harm to their patients.

If you suffered an adverse medical event due to an orthopedic error, you may be entitled to seek compensation from the surgeon, the medical facility and potentially other defendants. To find out whether your case has merit, it is prudent to seek the counsel of a Boston medical malpractice attorney.

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