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Residents generally don't increase risk of surgical mistakes

Many New York patients are probably aware that there are risks associated with surgery. When it comes to surgical errors, most of us are concerned with the adequacy of care provided by the surgeon and the hospital. But what happens to that risk when a resident performs or assists in the surgery? Does someone "in training" increase the risk of a surgical mistake happening?

Researchers looked at over 60,000 surgeries completed between 2005 and 2007 to answer this question and found that a surgical resident does not increase the risk of complications during surgery. The rate of serious complications stayed around 6 percent regardless of the participation of a resident.

For minor complications like skin infections, however, the study showed a slight increase when a resident participated in the surgery, but the difference was subtle. Procedures also seemed to take slightly longer with a resident, but only about 30 minutes longer.

One potential explanation for these slight differences is the types of cases seen at teaching hospitals where many doctors complete their residencies. Cases at these hospitals are generally more complex than those at a non-teaching hospital.

Overall, the results are reassuring for patients who plan on undergoing surgery at a teaching hospital. Some of the researchers even believe that hospitals with residents are safer because new doctors in training are more likely to keep their senior doctors up-to-date on patient status and are generally more attentive.

Whether or not a resident is involved in surgery, doctors and hospitals are held to certain standards of care. If a serious patient injury is caused by a doctor's failure to meet that standard of care, the patient has the right to bring a medical malpractice claim to recover damages.

Source: Reuters, "Having a resident in on surgery is safe: study," Amy Norton, Aug. 14, 2012

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