Group of doctors are operating Group of doctors are operating
Risk Prevention

Improving patient safety in and around the operating theatre

Reducing surgical site infection and improving teamwork and communication are both crucial factors in improving patient safety.

Despite many advances in the surgical environment, there is still a lot of work to do to improve patient safety in the operating theatre and throughout pre- and post-operative care. Deaths and illnesses still arise as a direct result of surgical site infections while highly complex and poorly used technology continues to lead to errors, including patient misidentification, surgical site misidentification, medical mistakes and omissions.

surgical teams on break chatting and laughing

Further improvement can only be made when the causes – particularly those relating to human error - are brought out into open and ways of dealing with them discussed. To prevent harm and death to patients undergoing surgical procedures, it is important to confront these taboo subjects and implement actions to reduce surgical site infection and improve teamwork and communication.

Improving the perioperative care process is a multi-faceted task given its unique and challenging environment. The operating theatre is a stressful place to work and teams need to rely on one another to uphold hygiene standards. Throughout the patient’s stay staff are under time pressure and cost pressure and this need to be taken into account when drawing up plans to improve patient safety.

Recommendations also need to take into account, among other things, complexities in clinical care, sophisticated technologies that may be excellent for their intended purpose but incapable of synchronising with other technologies, and the vast array of supplies and instruments that need to be managed by clinical teams.

Key factors in managing change include:

nurse helping a patient in a hospital while putting her hand on the patients arm


Currently, other than a quick assessment of the facts relating to a particular procedure, perioperative clinicians and staff have little opportunity to spend time with individual surgical patients. Because of this lack of familiarity there is an increased risk of patient misidentification, miscommunication of the planned procedure, and a failure to record important information such as allergies.

Administration and organisation

Surgery involves considerable planning and coordination, which means multiple clinicians, and care teams need to work together -- not only to share patient information but also to integrate their work into a larger care process.

As well as the number of people involved, there are many types of equipment, instruments, medications, blood products, and supplies that need to be planned and prepared to be at the same time and the same place. Typically, a different department or group manages each item (e.g. central supply, sterile instrument processing, patient transport, pharmacies, blood banks, surgical pathology and other departments). The more people involved, the higher the risk of human error.

Finally, the OR staff must also integrate their work with many other departments, such as recovery units, surgical clinics, radiology, laboratory, emergency department, critical care units, and others.

Since 2008, the WHO has been promoting a “Surgical Safety Checklist” in order to improve patient safety. It was developed after extensive consultation with medical professionals. It aims to decrease errors and adverse events, and increase teamwork and communication in surgery. Despite evidence that proves it has made a significant reduction in both morbidity as well as mortality, the checklist is not used by a large number of professionals all over the world. Each country is encouraged to adapt it to its specific needs to ensure most optimal usage. (


There is a growing focus on the importance of technology use within health care and proven software design approaches and standards are available. However, too often, national health care technology modernisation efforts have failed to recognise the unique requirements of perioperative care in both their vision and their priorities.

If they are focused on the specific challenges in the perioperative environment, they can be an important catalyst to transform surgical care. Health care standards need to be reviewed to ensure full support of perioperative requirements.


Easy, effective products and solutions can play a vital role in increasing patient safety provided they: offer a holistic level of care, facilitate and shorten the time and effort of treatment, and are intuitive to use.

Recommendations for improving patient safety

surgery room with a lot of surgical instruments and some surgeons