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What is universal protocol?

Surgical errors in Louisiana are thankfully quite rare, but when they do occur, they can be devastating. Of the many ways that your surgery can go wrong, among the most likely, relatively speaking, are surgery on the wrong patient, surgery at the wrong site or performance of an incorrect procedure. In the interest of preventing these kinds of errors and ensuring your safety during surgery, the Joint Commission, a nonprofit medical services accreditation organization, has set standards for surgical personnel to follow to double-check that the information identifying patient, procedure and site is correct. The collective term for these standards is the Universal Protocol. 

Adoption of Universal Protocol is widespread throughout the United States. The basics of Universal Protocol consist of three basic steps. 

Procedure site marking

This is particularly important when a surgeon could perform the same procedure on more than one area of your body. For example, there is only one site on the body where you could have an appendectomy but two possible sites for knee replacement. Therefore, marking the surgical site is a higher priority for the latter type of procedure. When possible, the Joint Commission recommends that your doctor ask you to confirm the site where you need surgery. For instance, in the joint replacement example given above, your doctor would ask you to confirm whether it is your right or left knee that is symptomatic before marking the surgical site. 

Pre-procedure verification

The goal of this verification process is twofold: First, to determine that the surgical team has the necessary surgical equipment, implants, documentation, test results, etc. to perform the surgery. Second, to verify patient, procedure and site. If there are any discrepancies or missing information, any necessary corrections should take place before the surgery begins. As with procedure site marking, it is best that the doctor and surgical team involve you in this process. 

Final timeout

Unlike the other two steps, this one typically occurs after you have received anesthesia, meaning that you may be unconscious at the time. The final timeout is an opportunity for the entire surgical team to confirm the intended procedure, the correct site and your identity as the correct patient before the procedure begins. The team should resolve all questions and concerns before the start of the surgery. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.

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