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Technology mishaps behind 1 in 4 operating room errors

Updated: July 26, 2013 09:03 AM
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THURSDAY, July 25 (HealthDay News) -- About one-fourth of operating room errors are caused by technology and equipment problems, but a preoperative surgical checklist could halve the error rate, a new study says.

Researchers reviewed 28 published studies on operating room errors and found that technology/equipment issues were cited in about 15 percent of malpractice claims. An average of 2.4 errors occurred in each procedure, and technology/equipment issues accounted for 23.5 percent of these errors.

Eight studies listed the different types of technology/equipment errors. The configuration or settings of a device/machine caused problems in about 43 percent of cases, availability of a device/machine was an issue in about 37 percent of cases, and the device/machine wasn't working properly in nearly a third of cases.

Four studies examined the severity of operating room errors and classified one-fifth of errors as "major." Equipment failures accounted for 20 percent of these major errors, compared with 13 percent for technical failures and 8 percent for communication.

The type and rate of equipment failures varied widely, depending on the study and the type of surgery. But overall, surgery that relied heavily on technology had higher rates of problems, according to the findings, published online July 25 in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety.

Three studies found that using an equipment/technology checklist before surgery could halve the error rate, according to a journal news release. Review authors Colin Bicknell, of Imperial College London, and colleagues recommended that a generic equipment checklist should become routine practice and be included in the current World Health Organization Surgical Safety Checklist.

While technological advances have improved the quality of surgery and patients' chances of survival, the authors cautioned: "The increasing use of technology in all surgical specialties may also increase the complexity of the surgical process, and may represent an increasing propensity to error from equipment failure."

Previous research suggests that medical errors affect up to 16 percent of hospital patients and that about half of these errors are associated with surgery, according to the news release.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more about surgery.

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