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Better interpersonal skills among surgeons promote patient safety

Surgeons in New York may now have a new resource for improving their professional conduct and patients outcomes. "Enhancing Surgical Performance: A Primer in Non-Technical Skills", styled as a handbook for surgeons, was written by researchers from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. They developed protocols for clinicians in operating rooms meant to enhance their non-technical skills, which include decision making, teamwork, communication and situational awareness.

Negative patient outcomes like preventable infections, sponges left behind, wrong site surgery and even death have been associated with poor leadership and insufficient communication during surgical procedures. Of the estimated 12 percent of patients who experience a negative event, half of them are surgical patients. Because surgery heightens the incidence of clinical mistakes, researchers sought methods for increasing the non-technical interpersonal skills of surgeons and staff.

Refined over 12 years of testing approaches among surgeons and operating room staff, the handbook calls on surgeons to reflect on their behavior and consider how it could be influencing their performance. Backed up by empirical evidence, the handbook identifies positive behaviors associated with lower rates of medical errors.

Although many surgeons pursue the best safety practices, the complexities of procedures and the number of people involved in patient care increase the opportunities for mistakes to occur. Anesthesia errors, for example, have the potential to be fatal. A victim of any adverse medical event could have an attorney review the medical records to see if any negligence, like a careless surgeon or a failure to obtain consent, occurred. The attorney can also obtain the opinion of medical experts in order to demonstrate that a health care practitioner of facility failed to exhibit the requisite standard of care and should thus be held financially responsible for the damages that the victim has incurred.

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