Mark the surgical site. Ask about allergies. Count the sponges. Count the needles.
Such simple reminders could prevent mistakes that endanger, disable and kill millions of people having surgery in both rich and poor nations each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, announcing a safety checklist on Wednesday.
“Even using conservative estimates, 7 million patients suffer complications following surgery, half of which are likely to be preventable,” the United Nations agency said in findings published in the Lancet medical journal.
Developing countries have death rates as high as 10 percent for major surgery, with general anesthesia alone killing one in 150 patients in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Infections and other complications are also a concern in hospitals and clinics around the world, the WHO said.
“Although there have been major improvements over the last few decades, the quality and safety of surgical care has been dismayingly variable in every part of the world,” said Harvard University professor and surgeon Atul Gawande, who helped develop the WHO’s surgical safety checklist.
Use of the checklist in eight pilot sites worldwide nearly doubled the likelihood patients will get top-standard surgical care, with fewer complications and deaths, the WHO said.
Health workers are reminded of questions to ask and risks to avoid at each stage of a surgery, from before the start of anesthesia through to the first cut and on to when the patient leaves the operating theatre.
A checklist coordinator is tasked with confirming the surgical team has taken stock of each item before moving on to the next phase of the procedure, the WHO recommends.
Some 234 million major operations are performed every year around the world — one for each 25 people. Most take place in richer countries, with only 3.5 percent of them in countries spending less than $100 per person on health a year.
Major surgery is defined by the WHO as an incision, excision, manipulation or suturing of tissue in an operating room that requires local or general anesthesia or profound sedation to control pain.