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Safety Checklist Aims to Reduce Mistakes in Surgery

W.H.O. launches effort to prevent deaths and injuries in the operating room. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Doctors around the world now perform more than two hundred thirty million major operations every year. The World Health Organization says preventable injuries and deaths from surgical care are a growing concern.

Experts estimate that surgical complications result in at least one million deaths a year. The W.H.O. says studies suggest that about half of these problems may be preventable.

The agency hopes to reduce mistakes with a program built around a new Surgical Safety Checklist.

Atul Gawande at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, helped develop the Safe Surgery Saves Lives program. He and other researchers studied records from fifty-six countries.

In two thousand four, surgical complications in developed countries led to death in less than one percent of cases. In developing countries, the rate was five to ten percent.

Complications can happen during an operation or after. For example, an infection might develop after surgery.

More than two hundred medical societies and health ministries are joined in the effort to make surgery safer. The checklist is similar to what airplane pilots use before takeoffs and landings.

One member of the surgical team administers the checklist. The first questions are asked before the patient receives anesthesia. The very first step is to confirm the patient's identity and the operation to be performed.

More questions are asked before the first cut. All members of the team are supposed to introduce themselves by name and job. Another step is to confirm whether the patient was given antibiotics within the last hour to prevent infection.

The third and final part of the checklist is completed before the patient leaves the operating room. For example, surgical items like sponges are counted to make sure nothing is left inside the patient.

At eight study locations worldwide, these tasks were being done only thirty-six percent of the time. But the W.H.O. says use of the checklist increased that to sixty-eight percent. Some hospitals reached almost one hundred percent.

Early results from one thousand patients showed a drop in complications and deaths.

Doctor Gawande says the checklist has helped him in his own surgery.

A final version of the checklist is expected by the end of the year. Britain, Ireland and Jordan are among countries that have already announced plans to use it nationwide.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.