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The human factors that lead to surgical errors

Wisconsin residents may be interested in the results of a study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic that looked into the causes of surgical errors. These medical mistakes are referred to as "never events" because they should never occur, and the researchers analyzed 69 such events that took place over a five-year period at the Minnesota facility. They identified 628 different human factors that may contribute to surgical errors, and an average of between four and nine of these factors were observed in each of the never events.

The surgical mistakes researchers scrutinized included performing surgery on the wrong site or side of the patient, leaving items inside the patient's body and performing the wrong procedure. Most of the never events occurred during minor surgery, and performing the wrong procedure was the most common mistake. The system used by the researchers had been earlier developed by investigators to determine the causes of military aviation accidents.

The researchers concluded that mistakes usually occur when preconditions such as fatigue, stress or overconfidence are present. These preconditions then lead to unsafe actions like rules being broken or protocols ignored. Other factors that contribute to surgical errors include lax supervision, inadequate planning and insufficient staff levels.

Surgical errors can cause lasting harm, but seeking legal remedies is often a difficult and frustrating process for medical malpractice victims. This form of litigation is highly complex, and the defendants often have significant resources to draw from. An experienced attorney may be able to provide an assessment of a potential malpractice lawsuit and explain to the injured patient the steps that would be involved in pursuing it. Doctors are rarely eager to admit that they made a mistake, and an attorney could call upon medical experts to identify the factors that may have contributed to a surgical error.

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