Check Lists

Surgery - December 31, 2016

Recently I was sitting with a client as she was going through her pre-operation intake with the nurse before having surgery on her right eye. The nurse put a little sticker above her right eyebrow when they checked her in. Then just before she was wheeled into the operating suite the surgeon saw her and removed the sticker and made a small mark with a marker above her eyebrow. They explained this was done to make absolutely certain that they did not operate on the wrong eye. I've seen similar tactics used at other surgery facilities. It's common to see patients have the word NO written on their knee or elbow or hand that is not being operated on that day. And typically patients having surgery experience staff constantly asking them to confirm their name and DOB throughout their time at the facility. They have a very good reason to be doing this.

Many of us have heard horror stories in the news of patients who have received the wrong treatment. The reality is we all sometimes make mistakes while doing our jobs. Doctors, nurses, and technicians are human like everyone else and can make mistakes. However, because the stakes are so high with medical care, it's important for them to take extra precautions to prevent errors. It can sometimes be annoying for the patient but these procedures are in place to protect patients and ensure their safety. Check lists and constant verification are a critical part of the standard of care today.

When you are the patient it is important to remember that healthcare protocols and checklists are done for your safety and protection. Don't be grumpy when you have to repeat your date of birth, name, and reason for your visit multiple times. Try not to be upset if your skin is marked. Cooperate if you are asked to have your photo taken and kept in your electronic medical record so it's easier for staff to correctly identify you. If you see a nurse wearing a bright colored sash labeled "Do Not Disturb Distributing Medication" do not talk to them, find another staff member to help you. Taking these simple steps can make life easier for the person who is giving you medical care and that will only help you get better quality care.

It's also a good idea to implement your own check lists and procedures for managing your care and recovery at home. Set an alarm or have someone remind you when to take your pills or change bandages or clean your dressing. When you are recovering from surgery you can't rely on your memory for these things, so having an external reminder in place will ensure you are following the doctor's orders properly. It's a good idea to keep a diary of your condition while you are recovering. Having notes on how you felt and responded to medications can be very useful when you see your doctor for a follow up appointment. Also, pill boxes are an important type of check list. It's so easy to forget when you have taken pills so setting them up in a pill box can help you keep track of what pills you have taken.

Never forget that to err is human. When it comes to your health, it's critical that the patient and the care providers all take extra precautions not to make errors.