How surgical time-out procedures can minimize errors

by | Apr 26, 2021 | medical malpractice

It sounds horrible: A surgeon operates on the wrong patient — or the right patient but the wrong body part. Sadly, these incidents are far more common than you may think. 

What if someone told you that these so-called “never events” are largely preventable? The truth is that surgeons and their surgical teams can minimize the chances of these events occurring by simply performing time-out procedures before beginning their operation. 

What is a time-out procedure?

Surgeons should take time to sit down and compile a checklist of the different steps involved in an operation from start to finish before performing any surgery. The doctor has an obligation to go over that process with members of the medical team to ensure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. Taking a time-out also allows the team to communicate about any concerns they have before operating on a patient. 

How effective time-outs can be when it comes to preventing injuries, however, depends on when and how they occur. 

Surgeons are the ones who call the shots in an operation. All other members of the medical team generally look to the surgeon for guidance. It may undermine the value of doing a time-out procedure if the person with most of the answers, the surgeon, isn’t present during the time-out procedure so the medical team can ask questions of them. 

Some surgeons may not be as thorough in preparing their surgical checklists and time-out procedures as other doctors. Some surgeons may hastily run through the time-out procedure or skip over it altogether. It’s not uncommon for medical team members to avoid speaking up about these instances out of fear of reprisals.

There are ways to prove that a time-out procedure didn’t occur

Many state laws and hospital or surgical center policies require doctors and other medical team members to input notes chronicling what happened at the end of every surgery. This information may shed light on whether anyone performed a time-out procedure before your surgery. It may also shed light on other issues of negligence that may have occurred in your case.