The statistics are staggering. According to a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, medical mistakes are now the eighth leading cause of death in America. Between 44,000 and 98,000 people die each year and hundreds of thousands more are injured as a result of such incidents as misdiagnoses, medical errors, wrong site surgeries and infections caused by instruments left in the body after surgery.

According to the groundbreaking report, “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System,” more people die in a given year as a result of medical errors than from breast cancer or AIDS. The report is a self-described “call to action” for the healthcare system. “Whether a person is sick or just trying to stay healthy, he or she should not have to worry about being harmed by the health system itself,” its authors say.

You’ll be happy to know efforts are being made to reverse the trend. Among the steps that have already been taken: patient wrist bands embedded with chips that carry identification and diagnosis information are being scanned before any procedure is performed; doctors are writing electronic prescriptions that pharmacists can easily read; and many medical centers are now using computer programs to double-check the care decisions doctors and nurses make.

But, perhaps the most noteworthy innovations are being made in the operating room. Among the high-tech changes that are protecting patients there: computers are now being installed in operating rooms; image guided robots that are able to make more precise cuts than surgeons are being used for more complicated procedures; and surgeons now have access to innovative tools designed to protect patients.

Take, for example, the RF Surgical Detection System, a breakthrough in detecting surgical gauze, towels and sponges. Developed by Jeffery Port, MD, a thoracic surgeon and Chairman of RF Surgical Systems Inc. and distributed by Medline Industries, Inc., the system protects patients by accurately alerting the user when the RF-tagged surgical disposals remain in the patient before surgical closing procedures. Hospital personnel simply pass a wand that is connected to an easy-to-use self calibrating counsel over the patient and if any tagged surgical disposals are detected, an alarm goes off.

Retained sponges are one of the leading safety concerns in operating rooms across the country. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, retained sponges occur at an estimated rate of one of every 1,000 to 1,500 intra-abdominal operations. This type of incident can lead to serious complications, including infection, the need for re-operation and even death.

Hospital personnel aren’t the only ones with the power to protect patients in the operating room. There are things patients can do to help ensure they’ll get the best care possible as well.

* Bring along a list of all the medications (both over-the-counter and prescription), vitamins and supplements you are taking. Your doctor will use this information to make sure medications you’re given in the hospital won’t have any adverse affects with what you’re already taking.

* Make a list of all your allergies.

* Don’t assume all of the paperwork in your doctor’s file will be available to the surgeon. Provide the results of any medical tests you may have taken in advance of the surgery, such as EKGs, a heart stress test, lung function test, echocardiogram, etc.

* Make a list of all of your doctors’ names and numbers.

Make sure everyone you come in contact with knows you have this information with you and readily available. In fact, insist that they take the time to review the information. The best way to ensure that you’re getting the best care possible is by taking an active role in the process.

For more information about RF-Detect and safety in the operating room, log on to – Courtesy of ARAcontent.

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