Quality & Patient Safety

Safety in the surgical environment

Patient Safety Monitor, July 1, 2010

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Editor’s note: The following column explores patient safety from the perspective of a newcomer to the field. Columnist Catherine Hinz, MHA, is the patient safety lead at HealthEast Care System in St. Paul, MN. Previously, Hinz worked for seven years as an ED health unit coordinator, completed a patient safety internship with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and finished a residency with The Studer Group. In her monthly contribution, she will express her thoughts, emotions, and ideas related to patient safety.

One of the first things I did when I started in this role was observe surgical cases. The surgical environment fascinates me for many reasons. In patient safety, the operating room (OR) is often one of the most high-profile areas for an adverse event, such as a wrong-site surgery or retained foreign object. Surgery can change the course of a patient’s disease, condition, and healing process in a matter of hours. The unique team dynamics in surgery consist of an incredible amount of interdependence, differing education levels, hierarchy, and minimal interaction with the patient. Lastly, on a personal level, I have undergone two knee surgeries but remembered very little about the process, although it’s one in which I’m interested. I was excited to see the teams in action.

I originally intended to observe surgical cases for the purpose of paying close attention to our timeout process. Month after month, our audits neared 100% correct completion rates. This rate of success, while not impossible, left questions in my mind about our technique and auditing practices.

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Patient Safety Monitor.

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