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3 Surgery FAQs: Anesthesia Safety, Hospital Errors, IVs

Not many people can say they enjoy going in for surgery. It's a bit nerve-wracking. But thank goodness we have it.

Here are answers to three surgery FAQs, to help you feel more comfortable and informed.


Q. What can I do to prevent medical errors in the hospital?
A. Three tips:

  1. Choose your hospital carefully. Ask your doctor not only where he or she admits patients, but which hospitals in your area regularly handle people with your type of problem. In a life-threatening situation, you may have to go to the nearest hospital, but those are fortunately rare, and you can be transferred to the one you prefer after the problem has stabilized.
  2. Confirm your identity. After admission, you can’t run the lab or change the pharmacy’s policies, but you can avoid labeling errors. Ask the person who draws blood, takes an X-ray or gives medication to check your name and hospital number against the ones on your armband. Insist on seeing the surgeon personally before you are too sleepy to talk.
  3. Don’t be afraid to complain or ask questions. Every nursing station and hospital department has someone in charge who can explain why things are done a certain way or listen to your concerns.

—Stella Fitzgibbons, M.D., board-certified internist; hospitalist with Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas.

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Q. Why do I need an IV for surgery?
A. Ports on the tubing allow quick and easy administration of anesthesia or other medications, such as those to prevent nausea and vomiting when you wake up. They also provide immediate access should a situation arise in which drugs need to be administered quickly.
—Marianne Beck, R.N., 25 years of experience as a nurse, including medical/surgical nursing and outpatient surgery.

Q. I’m worried about not waking up from the surgery. How safe is the anesthesia?
A. Anesthesia has made significant changes over the years. Short-acting medications minimize complications. Better monitoring techniques, such as the pulse oximeter, which measures the oxygen in your blood, provide vital information about your cardiovascular status during surgery. Your heart rate, respirations and blood pressure are also constantly monitored. If complications should arise, such as breathing problems, medications that reverse the effects of the anesthesia are available and very effective.

In their report To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, the Institute of Medicine revealed that in the early 1980s, two of every 10,000 people given anesthetics died from anesthesia-related causes. By the time the report came out in 2000, that number had decreased to one in every 200,000 to 300,000.

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Last updated and/or approved: August 2011.
Original FAQs appeared in various issues of the former print magazine. Bios current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
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