Surgical death investigations: could a dreaded experience be turned into an opportunity?

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4 October 2017

Anxiety associated with mortality audits could be reduced by making death investigations a compulsory component of pre-vocational and specialty training curricula according to an article in the latest issue of the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Surgery (ANZJS), the peer-review publication of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS).

The perspective, provided by members of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' Victorian Audit of Surgical Mortality, Monash University and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, details the various investigations that are primarily conducted for the purpose of improving care and ensuring patient safety.

The article claims that the prospect of an investigation into the death of a patient often raises apprehension among surgeons and prevents engagement with investigations, even when there are no allegations of negeligence, because education around the different types of investigations, all with different objectives, has not been clearly defined.

This apparently is coupled with a culture of blame that stems from a tendency to revert to a high model of medical professionalism characterised by unrealistic expectations.

If compulsory education in this area was introduced, Trainees and Fellows would be better informed of the purpose and process of various types of death investigations, turning a potentially negative experience into an opportunity to learn and improve.

The perspective recommends that curricula would include an overview of mortality audits compared to hospitality investigations, medical board investigations, coronial investigations, civil litigation and criminal prosecution processes.

Read the full article here

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