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How to protect yourself during surgery

Thousands of Pittsburgh residents will undergo surgery this year. Most surgeries will go as expected with no complications. But surgical errors do occur occasionally and it's important for patients to be aware of ways to help avoid an error.

Thousands of people experience medical errors in hospitals each year. According to Consumer Reports, over 440,000 patients will experience some type of medical error. This is more than 10 times the number of people who will die in a car crash and more than two jumbo jets crashing each day. There are advocates who are working to set up a federal agency to protect patients but until that is accomplished there are some things patients should keep in mind while they are in the hospital.

First, review the informed consent material far in advance of the procedure. This will give you time to review the information and ask any questions. Second, find out what the visitor policy is at the hospital. A family member or friend can help be your advocate and be the extra set of ears and eyes as to what is going on with you. Third, ask your surgeon what his error rate is along with infection rates. Ask what the hospital's error rate is and what they will do to keep you safe. This can make it known to them that you're paying attention to their work and that they should make the extra effort to keep you safe.

Fourth, if you have time until the surgical procedure is performed check out other hospitals to compare and learn the risks and benefits of the procedure. Fifth, find out who is performing the surgery. Occasionally the surgery is done by a student and if you're not ok with that let the surgeon know. Sixth, seek out a second or third opinion from other surgeons.

Surgical errors do occur frequently in the U.S. There are some things patients can do to try and reduce the chances that they will be the victim of a careless surgeon.

Source: Consumer Reports, "6 insider tips for safer surgery," Joel Keehn, Nov. 2014

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