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Medical Equipment Malfunctions Are A Significant Cause of Operating Room Errors.

Posted Thursday, December 3, 2015 by Tom Degan

According to a 2013 study, about one-fourth of operating room errors are caused by technology and equipment problems. Further, a preoperative surgical checklist could halve this error rate.

The study was published in Journal BMJ Quality & Safety, and can be found here:

Surgical technology and operating-room safety failures: a systematic review of quantitative studies

In this study, researchers reviewed 28 previously published studies on operating room errors and found that technology or equipment issues were cited in approximately 15 percent of malpractice claims. An average of 2.4 errors occurred in each procedure, and technology or equipment issues accounted for 23.5% of the errors.

Overall, the researchers found that surgery that relied heavily on technology had higher rates of problems. While technological advances have no doubt improved the quality of surgery and patients’ chances of survival, the authors cautioned in a press release that “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.”

Operating rooms are full of equipment that surgeons rely upon surgery. With the advent of electronic medical records, more and more systems are computerized. Anesthesia delivery systems, intraoperative neuromonitoring, fetal heart monitoring systems and medical imaging are just a few of the complex machines used in modern operating room. When this equipment fails, the results can be catastrophic.

The authors propose the creation and use of equipment checklist in operating rooms. Apparently the existence and use of such checklists during life and death surgery is not common practice. Pilots have checklists to ensure the working order of an airplane prior to takeoff. Interstate truck drivers have similar checklists to be used prior to hitting the road. Indeed, one would think that the need for a checklist to ensure that the increasingly complex medical equipment used by surgeons in the operating room is working would be self-evident.

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