Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Communication key to patient safety in surgery

Complications can be prevented by simply talking


Dr. Jonathan Schweid


Millions of people have surgery every year, and while any surgery carries some risk, many complications can be prevented through simple communication.

This is especially true when patients are uncertain about the procedure or have concerns about postoperative care.

As a patient, you might be asked more than once to confirm your name and birth date as well as your procedure. This is done so all members of the surgical team know they are providing the right care to the right patient and, ultimately, ensuring your safety during the procedure.

But there are steps you can take even before you get to the hospital. The most important is to be sure you are well informed about everything your procedure will include.

Talk to your doctor

When discussing any surgery, be sure to talk to you doctor about all aspects of the procedure. Undergoing surgery is a stressful experience—both for the patient and family. Direct communication with your surgeon regarding your concerns is the best way to gain understanding, reduce misconceptions about surgery, and ultimately plan your recovery.

For example, talk to your surgeon about any medications you are taking for chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Although you may not be able to eat or drink anything after midnight, some medications can be taken with a small amount of water in the morning.

You should also know what to expect during your recovery. Be sure to ask if you will need to spend time in the hospital or if you will be able to go home the same day. You should also know how much time off work, if any, will be needed and if there will be any activity restrictions. This will help you plan ahead to be sure you have someone who can help you with everyday tasks during your recovery.

Communication Aids Healthcare Team

Patients also should know that their healthcare team will follow specific procedures to ensure the best possible outcomes. Prior to receiving anesthesia, for example, the surgeon may confirm your procedure as well as what body part and what side is involved. Typically, this includes marking the actual site so it is visible during surgery while you are unable to talk.

Many times, a surgeon also will prescribe an antibiotic to be taken shortly before the procedure. This is done to help prevent infection at the surgical site, which could slow recovery following an operation.

Additionally, once you are sedated and in the operating room, your surgical team will conduct a formal pause before starting. This pause – called a time-out – allows the team to check the patient name and ID number, identify the procedure to be done, and check to be sure all equipment and medications are in the room. This process only takes a few moments but it plays a big role in reducing operating errors and ensuring patient safety.

Surgeons lead a very large team dedicated to providing you with a safe, positive experience both during and after surgery. This is a very big responsibility. Trust and open communication are integral pieces of the doctor-patient relationship and are paramount to a successful outcome and a positive patient experience.

Dr Schweid is a board-certified general surgeon for ProMedica Physicians in Toledo. For more information, visit

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