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What is a surgical time out?

Texas parents may be familiar with the term "time out." Over the course of their lives they may have sent their children to this form of punishment dozens if not hundreds of times. A time out in this context involves having a child stop, wait and think about what they need to do to improve their attitude or behavior.

It may come as some surprise to readers, then, that surgeons and surgical nurses must take time outs as well. Surgical time outs are one component of the three-part Universal Protocol that was adopted in 2004 to help doctors avoid the damaging, dangerous and costly issues related to surgical mistakes. When a surgical team takes a time out, they are expected to do several things.

First, during the time out the surgical team should cease all activity and put their focus on the patient. If possible, the patient should be conscious so that they may participate. During the time out, the team and the patient confirm that the patient is the correct individual, that they know what surgical procedure is going to be performed, that they identify the right side or part of the patient's body where the surgery will happen and that everyone understands those components of the process.

Different hospitals may have different steps for meeting the standard of the surgical time out, but its inclusion in the pre-operative process is imperative to keeping patients safe. When doctors and other healthcare professionals rush through their responsibilities to their patients the possibility for horrific mistakes is real.

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