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Study provides insight into surgical errors

Patients who undergo surgery in New York area hospitals may soon be safer thanks to a comprehensive study performed by researchers at England's Oxford University. Efforts to reduce patient injuries and medical errors during surgical procedures have generally followed one of two strategies, but the Oxford team discovered that taking a combined approach was far more effective. The study, which is the largest ever in the field of surgical errors, was conducted over four years by a team from the university's Department of Surgical Sciences. The team published their findings in the medical journal Annals of Surgery.

Attempts to improve the outcomes of surgical patients have generally focused on either on improving teamwork and communication between surgeons and their support staff or refining operating room policies and procedures. However, the Oxford team determined that a hybrid approach addressing both the culture of surgical staff and the way that they went about their work achieved the best results.

The team reached this conclusion after running five studies. Two of these studies examined the effectiveness of changing operating room systems and two assessed the merits of a combined approach. They found that operating room staff who benefited from the combined approach not only went about their jobs more effectively, but they were more likely to seek help during times of uncertainty.

Any research that has the potential to reduce surgical mistakes and anesthesia errors should be welcomed, but patient safety will not be improved in the real world until hospitals take notice of the findings and implement the recommended changes. Medical malpractice lawsuits filed by personal injury attorneys are often a major worry for hospitals and other medical facilities, and concerns over the sometimes significant damages awarded in these cases may provide the impetus for lasting improvement.

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