Archive January 2017 XVIII, No. 1

Let's Team Up to Prevent Patient Harm

Our exploration of surgical safety kicks off with a look at the persistent problem of medical care gone wrong.

Daniel Cook

Daniel Cook, Executive Editor

BIO

medical errors IN GOOD HANDS? Avoidable medical errors kill hundreds of thousands each year.

This is the first installment of our year-long series dedicated to addressing the underlying causes of medical errors, and discussing what can be done to promote patient safety in surgical facilities across the country. We pledge to provide you with insights and advice from leading safety experts. You can hold up your end of the bargain by inspiring your clinical team to do better, because patients don't deserve to leave your facility in worse shape than when they arrived. Let's start the conversation with a straightforward question: Why do surgical errors keep happening? The answer, it seems, is a bit complicated.

Culture clash
A pair of recent studies grabbed national headlines by claiming medical care gone wrong kills either 250,000 or 450,000 people each year, depending on which researchers you believe, making it the third leading cause of death — behind only cancer and heart disease — in the United States. Some questioned the evidence and debated which estimate is more accurate. What difference does it make? There's only one number that matters.

"It should be zero," says Sue McWilliams, RN, MSN, of the Northern Arizona School of Nursing in Flagstaff and an advisor to CaimpaignZero, an advocacy group dedicated to preventing the medical errors that cause patient harm.

Ms. McWilliams spent some time as a surgical nurse during her 30-year career in health care. Nine months, to be exact. It was the stress of the OR that drove her to follow her passion in more relaxed clinical settings.

Does the pressure-cooker environment of the OR put undue strain on the surgical team, forcing them to keep patients moving through the facility instead of focusing on the one who's on the table? Does the lashing out of stressed-out surgeons distract cowering nurses and techs from protecting patients?

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