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Safe Surgery: A Patient's Guide

Blaney-Koen, Lisa MA; Dickey, Nancy MD

Journal of Patient Safety: March 2007 - Volume 3 - Issue 1 - p 56
doi: 10.1097/01.pts.0000242985.48047.ef
Solutions for Leaders

Every year, millions of people have surgery. In many cases, technology has allowed safer procedures with less recovery time. As a patient, you play a key role in making your surgery as safe as possible.

Open communication with your health care team is key to receiving good treatment. Always share concerns, and learn what steps to take before, during, and after surgery. Ask about qualifications when choosing a surgeon. A physician who is board certified in surgery has special training and has demonstrated skills that meet a high standard. If you can select the hospital or clinic where the operation will be performed, check facilities, and compare how often the procedure is done at each and success rates.

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  1. The more information you give your health care team, the better care they can provide. Your surgeon needs to know your medical history, including chronic conditions (such as high blood pressure) and allergies to medications, foods, preservatives, dyes, or latex. Never assume your health information has been passed along. Share information with your complete surgical team.
  2. Report past problems you or close relatives have experienced with anesthesia (medications that control pain or make you "sleep" during surgery).
  3. Tell your doctor if you snore. Loud and frequent snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a condition your anesthesiologist (the physician who administers medications during surgery) needs to know about.
  4. If you drink every day or use illegal drugs, be honest with your surgeon. Both can affect your safety during surgery.
  5. Follow all presurgery instructions such as not eating or drinking before your procedure.
  6. Quit smoking, if at all possible, before surgery. Smoking increases your risk of infection. If quitting is not possible, make sure your surgeon knows that you smoke.
  7. Tell your medical team about all medications and herbal supplements or vitamins you are taking or have recently taken to avoid interactions.
  8. Ask if you should take your usual medications on the day of surgery.
  9. Discuss your patient consent form during the planning phase. This will allow more time to talk about risks, possible complications, and recovery time.
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  1. Check the information on your ID bracelet.
  2. With your surgical team, mark the surgery site with a pen to prevent any confusion.
  3. Remind doctors and nurses about allergies and/or chronic health conditions.
  4. Make sure you read and understand the patient consent form before signing.
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  1. Arrange for your family or a trusted friend to be there.
  2. Wash your hands often, especially after using the restroom. Do not be afraid to remind hospital staff to wash their hands too.
  3. Keep dressings around your incision dry and clean.
  4. Avoid other people's infections. If family or friends do not feel well, ask them not to visit.
  5. Learn steps to avoid complications such as walking to prevent blood clots.
  6. Understand discharge instructions. Follow dietary and activity restrictions.
  7. If you are prescribed pain medicine, do not increase the dosage without consulting your physician, but remember that proper use of pain medicine can speed up recovery by allowing you to cough or do other functions that might be avoided.
  8. When leaving the hospital, make sure you know about follow-up appointments.
  9. Arrange for help at home.

Although no one can ensure the outcome of a surgery before it is performed, you can work with your physician to take steps to help ensure that your surgery is as safe and successful as possible.

Author: Lisa Blaney-Koen, MA

Editor: Nancy Dickey, MD

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.