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Surgical time outs and why they're necessary

There are many steps doctors, nurses and other medical providers can take to keep patients safe. For surgeons, one of these strategies is called a surgical time out. It's an important pre-surgery break that helps reduce the risk to the patient.

A surgical time out is an important part of the safety steps taken before a patient goes into surgery. This single step gives doctors and nurses time to talk, focus and double check important information before beginning sometimes long and arduous surgeries.

Time outs did not always include safety checks, but the time has been expanded to include verification steps, like checking to make sure the patient is in the proper position for surgery and making sure all the patient's medical documents are prepared and ready in case they are needed.

Diagnostic images might be reviewed or checked during this stage, as could the review for drugs, like preoperative antibiotics, that a patient may need to have injected. Medical devices, tools and implants are all reviewed during the time out to make sure they are in proper working order before the surgery ever begins.

Surgical time outs are also a good time for surgeons to review and check that surgical sites are marked correctly, since leaving this to interns or varied staff members isn't enough to guarantee the surgery goes as planned. Only the surgeon himself or herself knows the full scope of the operation, so he or she should go through final checks with the staff who is present during the surgery. If a professional fails to take a time out and injures a patient, that can be the basis for a medical malpractice claim and something you may want to consider.

Source: BioMed Central, "The 5th anniversary of the "Universal Protocol": pitfalls and pearls revisited," Philip F Stahel, Philip S Mehler, Ted J Clarke and Jeffrey Varnell, accessed Nov. 21, 2016

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