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Surgery 101

What You Can To Avoid Medical Error Before Surgery

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Tell About Medications, Allergies, Defribrilators and Pacemakers

  • Make sure that both your surgeon and anesthesiologist [the doctor in charge of administering the medication to make you sleep during an operation] know about:
    • All medications that you take currently - including over the counter medications, supplements, vitamins and herbs. If you stopped taking any drugs recently, let the doctors know about them as well.
    • Any allergies you know about.
    • All details about your present and past medical history.
    • If you have a defribrilator or pacemaker.
  • These questions will often be repeated just before you go into the operating room or just before administering the anesthesia. If you are not asked the questions just before surgery,speak up and inform them about your medications.
  • It will help if you have a can hand medical personnel a copy of a List Of Medications instead of trying to remember when you are anxious about an operation or possibly lightly drugged. (Side note: it is also advisable to carry a List of Medications with you at all times "just in case.")

If You Can, Schedule Your Surgery For Best Days And Times

  • Schedule your surgery for a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday morning if possible. If you are operated on during the middle of the week, you will benefit from full hospital staffing for post-operative care. 
  • It is less likely that your surgery will be delayed if you are scheduled for the first surgery of the day.
  • If surgery is elective (at your choice), avoid June and July when doctors who are fresh out of school join a hospital. 

Ask that the site be marked.

  • Ask the surgeon to initial or otherwise mark your surgery site. A mark will help prevent the surgeon from operating on the wrong part of your body. The mark is not permanent. 
  • Don't be embarrassed to ask. The American College of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends this safety measure be followed. Recently, large medical centers have instituted this practice automatically. 
  • Remind the surgeon of the mark before the surgery.

Think about banking your own blood

  • Ask your surgeon beforehand if you are likely to require a transfusion of blood. The risk in the United States of receiving an infection or receiving the wrong blood type through transfusion is extremely small. Still, banking your own blood supply ahead of time completely eliminates the risk. It also helps retain our previous blood supply.
  • Banking your own blood may not be appropriate in some situations. Banking your own blood too close to your surgery date could actually increase the likelihood of your requiring a transfusion. Consult with your doctor if you are considering this option.

Watch for infection

  • Ask your surgeon if there is a significant threat of infection with your surgery. If so, consider asking to receive antibiotics in the hour before surgery, a timing that is not always followed.

Tell about your thoughts concerning pain

  • Work with your surgeon on a plan to control any pain that occurs after surgery ("post-surgical pain".) Studies indicate that adequate control of pain can speed recovery and the healing process. It  also helps to minimize post-surgical depression.

Ask about the room you will you be returned to after surgery

  • See if you can get a room with plenty of sunlight. Studies have shown that sunlight speeds recovery after surgery and can help with alleviating pain.
  • If you will be in a double room, it doesn't hurt to ask for the bed next to the window. If you cannot get it immediately, perhaps you can be transferred when a patient moves out.

Ask about new medical equipment

  • Prior to surgery, ask your doctor if any new medical equipment will be used during your surgery. If the answer is yes, ask how new the equipment is and how many times the doctor has used it. The use of new equipment with minimal training or experience on the part of the surgical team has recently resulted in a number of medical errors.

Ask about the post-surgical nursing staff

  • Check with the hospital to find out whether the nursing staff in the post-operative section are experienced and fully staffed. Several studies indicate that the staffing level of nurses was found to directly influence the incidence of adverse events following major surgery.

After surgery:

  • Ask about using a breathing device to clear your lungs.
  • Monitor use of a catheter.
  • Pay attention to an i.v. line. If it gets crimped or pulls out, let medical personnel know immediately.
  • Exercise as much as your doctor will allow.  You can take an i.v. pole with you as you walk in the hall.


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