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‘Surgical Technologist’ Law Affects Doctors, Hospitals

O.R.By Jason C. Scott

Until this summer, New York did not have any law regulating the training and skills of surgical technologists in healthcare facilities. Surgical technologists play a key role in the operating room by assisting surgeons during procedures, maintaining a sterile surgical room, and ensuring that equipment is functioning properly.

On July 31, 2013, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new law, adding Section 2824 to the Public Health Law, defining “surgical technology” and establishing standards for certification of surgical technologists working in specified healthcare facilities (e.g. general hospitals or hospitals operating as diagnostic and treatment centers authorized to provide ambulatory surgical services). The new law takes effect on January 1, 2015.

Surgical technology is defined in the new law as including the following surgery related tasks and functions:

  1. Assisting healthcare professionals to (i) prepare the operating room and sterile field for surgical procedures; (ii) move and position patients for surgery; and (iii) perform non-invasive prepping of the skin’s surface and draping patients for surgery;
  2. Assisting the surgeon’s provision of hemostasis during surgery by handing instruments;
  3. Holding a retractor after placement;
  4. Anticipating instrument needs of the surgeon; and
  5. Performing other tasks incidental to surgery, as directed by the surgeon.

A surgical technologist may not, among other things, administrator medication, apply sutures or assist with wound closure, or apply wound dressings. In addition, a surgical technologist must be under the direction and supervision of a licensed healthcare professional participating in the surgery when performing surgical technology.

The new standards are designed to ensure that these professionals are competent and adequately skilled to perform the job because they are responsible for patients’ safety and wellbeing.

Beginning February 1, 2015, a person may not function as a technologist, and a hospital may not employ or contract the services of a technologist, unless the person has successfully completed a nationally accredited education program for surgical technologists and holds and maintains a certified surgical technologist credential administrated by a nationally accredited organization.

There are, however, alternatives to this requirement in the new law (e.g., a person may function as a technologist if he or she received appropriate training in the military). In addition, technologists must complete 15 hours of continuing education annually to remain qualified to practice and hospitals are now required to verify that the technologist meets these continuing education requirements. The Department of Health may issue regulations to effectuate the new law, but to date none have been promulgated.

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Jason C. Scott is an associate on Jacobowitz & Gubits Litigation Team.

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