Preventing Errors and Infections During Surgery: Steps for Hospital Staff and Patients
You have been admitted to the hospital for surgery. You and your family or friends may have many feelings of anxiety or nervousness about the surgery. Rest assured that the hospital staff has standards in place to ensure that your stay during surgery is a safe one.
Hospitals follow safety and quality measures that are set by government organizations, researchers, and expert panels. These measures require hospitals to:
Here are some measures that the hospital staff will take to prevent surgical errors and infection during your hospital stay and surgery.
What the Hospital Staff Will Do to Prevent...
Patient Identification Errors
Receiving the correct surgery and care means making sure that your doctors, nurses, and others on your healthcare team know who you are. This means having your correct name, telephone number, and other unique identification on record. Hospitals have standards to:
One way the hospital staff will enforce these standards is by using at least two forms of patient identifiers. Having at least two forms when giving medications, collecting blood samples, and performing surgery will decrease the chance of mistakes in patient care.
Along with correct patient identifiers, the hospital staff will make sure that all important information is collected prior to your surgery. This is called preprocedure verification. During this time, they will make sure that all information and equipment needed for your surgery are available. They will also make sure that the information and equipment are correctly matched to your patient identifiers and that they have reviewed the information among themselves and with you.
Doing surgery on the wrong part of the body can be a terrible mistake. Your surgical team will take careful actions, including checking with you, to mark the specific site on your body where surgery will be done.
Hospitals have also adopted many standard procedures to help prevent infection during surgery. You may notice many of these techniques during your stay. If you are concerned about a technique to prevent infection, you are encouraged to speak up. Ask your doctor about how they will prevent infection. Regular and thorough hand washing by hospital staff is one of the most important aspects of infection prevention.
The hospital staff will do the following to help prevent infection:
Many hospitals also have a program to identify patients who harbor dangerous bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant staph infection (MRSA), prior to surgery.
Your healthcare team will do the following before, during, and after your surgery:
Other Steps You Can Take
The hospital staff will follow strict guidelines so that your surgery and hospital stay are successful. However, there are things you can do to lower your risk of infection. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, can actually increase your risk of infection. Consider these good habits and lifestyle changes:
Your doctor may also ask you to bathe with a special soap before surgery. Do not shave the area near where you will have surgery. This can irritate the skin.
Tell your healthcare team right away if you have any signs of an infection, like redness, swelling, pain, fevers, or chills.
Together, you and your healthcare team can ensure that your hospital stay and surgery is a safe one.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Joint Commission
Canadian Medical Association
2014 Hospital national patient safety goals. The Joint Commission website. Available at:
FAQs about surgical site infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
Preventing healthcare-associated infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
Surgical wound infection—prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated November 13, 2013. Accessed November 21, 2013.
Last reviewed November 2013 by Michael Woods, MD