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Surgery and Patient Safety

When a patient is facing surgery and a hospital stay in Kentucky, there are many things the patient can do to protect their health. One of the most important things is to ask questions and make sure to get answers that are understandable. There are risks associated with all surgical procedures and also with anesthesia and medications. Additionally, there are dangers associated with Health Care-Associated infections (HAI) that are commonly contracted in hospitals and surgical centers. Active participation with the health care team (doctors, nurses) can substantially decrease the patient’s vulnerability.

Before surgery, the patient should make sure that they are comfortable with the doctor and understand the diagnosis and treatment plan.

  • Check the doctor’s credentials and make sure he/she has experience with this type of surgery or procedure
  • Consider getting a second medical opinion
  • Question the physician about potential complications and risks
  • Research alternative treatments
  • Understand the recovery time requirements and post-surgery limitations
  • Ask the doctor if vaccinations are up to date and if a flu shot or pneumonia shot might help possible post surgery infections
  • Understand all pre-surgery directions, such as abstaining from food, liquids and medications
  • Plan on having another family member or friend available for transportation to/from the hospital
  • Request that a family member/friend be with the patient as often as possible during the hospital stay

Once at the hospital or surgical center there are things that can be done to help protect the patient.

  • Read and review the Informed Consent Form and any other paperwork that is to be signed upon admission. Ensure the information is correct and that it is understood.
  • If the patient requires an interpreter or needs someone to read the admission paperwork to them, notify the medical staff
  • Make sure the ID bracelet has the correct name and information
  • Verify that the medical team is aware of any allergies or health conditions
  • The surgical team should repeatedly verify the patient’s identification, confirm the nature of the procedure, and mark the body part where the surgery will be performed. Make sure the team adheres to these procedures.

After surgery, if the patient is unable to actively be involved in advocating for health safety, be sure that a family member or friend is comfortable asking questions of the healthcare team.

  • Be sure health care providers thoroughly wash their hands before tending to the patient. Also have any visitors wash their hands.
  • Apprise the doctor or medical team of pain levels/nausea/comfort level.
  • Understand what medications are to be taken, how often to take them and the purpose of the medication. Also ask about any potential side effects.
  • If the patient has a catheter, understand why it is being used and how long it will be used. Infections are possible if catheters are left in place for too long.
  • If an IV is inserted, ask why it is being used and for how long.
  • Keep the doctor or staff alerted to any issues with severe diarrhea as this can be a sign of an HAI.
  • Also alert the medical team as to any skin discoloration, drainage or irritation as this may also indicate an infection.
  • Ask if there is a risk for blood clots, and if so, ask about preventative steps that can be taken.
  • Many patients will require help getting in and out of the hospital bed. Falling is a common risk after surgery due to mobility problems and the possible side effects of medication.

Finally, when it is time for discharge, continue to be diligent in staying on top of the treatment plan.

  • Read discharge instructions thoroughly and repeat the patient’s understanding of these instructions to your doctor or nurse.
  • Get all prescriptions that will be necessary and understand the directions for use. Make sure someone can fill these prescriptions immediately.
  • Understand any physical or work limitations post-surgery.
  • Ask what "red flags" to look for in case of a set-back or infections.
  • Ask when a follow-up appointment should be scheduled with the doctor.
  • Get a contact name and number for any health questions or concerns.

Even with the best medical care, there are hazards associated with any surgical procedure. Patients need to be actively involved in their treatment prior to, during and after any surgery. Patient involvement can positively impact the risk of medical mistakes, medical complications, prescription errors and Health Care-Associated Infections.

If you or a loved one has questions about the potential for a hospital, surgical center or doctor to be responsible in your allegation of a Medical Malpractice case in Kentucky, contact Brett H. Oppenheimer, PLLC toll free (502) 242-8877 or via our contact form.