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Researcher calls for public accounting of surgical errors

It may be alarming to readers in Houston, Texas, to know that at least 4,000 times a year in the United States, surgeons make serious mistakes such as performing an incorrect procedure or operating on the wrong body part of a patient. Even more alarming, is that in one in 15 of those cases, the patient dies as a result of the surgeon's mistake. So how can surgeons reduce these surgical errors? One researcher from Johns Hopkins says the answer is public accounting.

He believes that surgical errors can be reduced by keep accurate records of the errors by a third party. Also, while some states require hospitals to report their mistakes, a national reporting system would be more effective.

Not only would accurate public accounting of surgical errors help improve the safety of patients' lives, it would also cut healthcare costs significantly. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' started denying reimbursement for costs due to surgical errors back in 2008. More specifically, it stopped paying for incidents where a foreign object was left in patient. As a result, such cases were cut in half.

This study points out the important fact that patients are owed a standard of care from their surgeons when they undergo surgery. The standard of care represents the level of skill, expertise and care possessed and practiced by physicians found in the same or similar community as the one they are treated in, under similar situations.

However, the standard of care is not always the same for every doctor. For example, the standard of care is determined by different methods for new doctors and those doctors who specialize in a practice area. These days, new doctors are now required to take "national board" exams. As for doctors who specialize, they are now subject to "board certifications." This means that for them, their standard practice of medicine is not dependent upon their geographic location.

When patients are in the unfortunate situation of dealing with surgical errors made by a careless surgeon, it is important to understand what standard of care should be applied. Surgical patients who trust their doctors to help them but end up worse because of their doctors' negligence, deserve compensation for their injuries.

Source: Bloomberg, "To Reduce Medical Errors, Make Them Public," Feb. 3, 2013

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