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According to a Dutch study, one simple tool - the surgical checklist - can prevent surgical errors, reduce medical malpractice claims and save countless lives.

The study, published in the Annals of Surgery, determined that nearly a third of malpractice claims at Amsterdam's Academic Medical Center were due to errors that a checklist would have caught, according to Reuters.com.

Using 2004 and 2005 data from the largest U.S. medical liability insurer, researchers identified 294 cases in which surgical errors led to successful insurance claims. When these errors were checked against SURPASS - a comprehensive surgical checklist - researchers found that 29 percent of the successful lawsuits were linked to a step in the checklist overlooked by the surgical team. Further claims analysis revealed that one or more checklist items - overlooked during surgery - contributed to four of 10 deaths.

Could those deaths have been averted? While using a checklist could never guarantee a surgical outcome, researchers say it would likely have prevented both physical and financial damage.

The checklists included about 100 tasks involving pre-operative care, operating room protocols, intensive care and post-operative care. Items included checking for blood availability, marking the patient's surgical site and medication management.

Patients Pay High price for Errors

According to experts, medical errors claim tens of thousands of American lives each year. A 2010 study cited by Reuters.com estimated that such errors cost the United States more than $55 billion annually, or 2.4 percent of the country's healthcare spending.

Earlier studies have shown that when healthcare providers follow a checklist, they reduce deaths dramatically and prevent complications that could require further treatment. Yet only about a fourth of U.S. hospitals use one of three checklists that have been proven to work.

"This kind of evidence indicates that surgeons who do not use one of these checklists are endangering patients," said Atul Gawande, a surgeon with the Harvard School of Public Health.

If your health - or that of a loved one - has been compromised by medical errors or malpractice, consult a trusted personal injury attorney to review your options and seek compensation.

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