Monday, March 8, 2021
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UMKC medical, engineering students collaborate to reduce surgical error

There are millions of surgical operations performed by doctors each year. According to the Institute of Medicine, 98,000 people die every year due to hospital errors.

In response to this startling statistic, UMKC’s medical and engineering researchers united in hopes of reducing surgical error. They strive to help patients undergoing surgery feel confident that there will be low or no chance of fatal complications.

Gary Sutkin, a professor and program director in the School of Medicine and Associate Dean of Women’s Health, partnered with his colleagues to spearhead this project.

In fall 2016, Sutkin was talking with biomedical engineers Dr. Greg King and Dr. Antonis Stylianou when they realized a shared passion: reducing surgical error.

After this realization, the team met regularly and decided to use their combined resources. They started by forming a motion analysis group consisting of engineers and physicians.

Up to that point, the most common approach to preventing surgical errors was called a “system approach”— the discussion that takes place between doctors and their team before a surgical procedure. It entails what doctors can do to carry out the procedure as successfully as possible.

Dr. Sutkin and his team recognized that systems approaches are not enough. When operating room doors close, the majority of surgical errors occur because of the surgeon, not the team. Whether through changing the tools, redirecting the surgeon, or developing a different way to perform the procedure, Sutkin insists surgical errors can and will be reduced with new methods.

When asked why this project was important to him, Sutkin stated, “If I know that surgery is safer, then I can get a more peaceful sleep at night.”

Sutkin expressed that the restless night before surgery, the patient is not the only one worrying about what could go wrong—he is, too.

“Patients are getting hurt by mistake. Due to surgical error, some people suffer disappointment, permanent disability, and sometimes death,” Sutkin said. “Until I can find a sure way to keep something from going wrong in the operating room, I will never be able to sleep comfortably the night before an operation.”

From a broad list of surgical procedures, Dr. Sutkin and his team narrowed this project down to one surgery: the Midurethral Sling Surgery.

This surgery fixes certain urinary issues that some women face. This is a thirty-minute procedure, where the success rate is high, but patients face serious surgical risks.

Specifically, there is a possibility that the urethra, bladder, bowel and major blood vessels can be punctured. Sutkin and his team attempt to lessen the frequency of such errors.

The overall goals for this project emphasize patient safety and expansion, broad goals that can be applied to all future surgeries. Dr. Sutkin and his team aspire to have conclusive results from this project by the fall of 2018.

To get more information on surgery safety, The World Health Organization has beneficial resources that can be accessed by anyone at


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