Millions of people undergo surgery every year, and most of the time, the surgical procedure goes exactly as planned. But at least 4,000 times per year, serious and fatal mistakes occur in operating rooms.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, nearly 50 percent of surgical errors result in permanent damage to the patient. An additional 16 percent of these errors result in death. These mistakes are often attributable to inattention, fatigue, a lack of regard for safety protocols, or miscommunication. Whatever the reasons may be, a mistake that harms or kills a patient is inexcusable.
If a surgical error has caused an injury or death in your family, we may be able to help you. The medical malpractice attorneys at Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher & Miller have years of experience helping victims of surgical errors in Pennsylvania and New Jersey pursue justice. We work tirelessly to ensure the victims of negligent healthcare providers are compensated for their pain and suffering. Call us today for your no-obligation consultation at (800) 529-6600.
The Risk of Infection
When you undergo surgery, you may anticipate that you’ll be in a sterile operating room with a surgeon, nurse, anesthesiologist, and maybe one or two more medical staff. However, many people may be surprised to learn that often, several people may walk in and out of the sterile OR multiple times during a single operation, even though foot traffic has been associated with surgical-site infection in operating rooms.
A study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website measured the number of times operating room doors opened during surgeries, as well as the number of people in the operating room. The study found that in 14 surgeries totaling 2,442 minutes of operating time, there were 1,682 door swings, with between four and 15 people in the operating room.
Infection is a known risk of surgery, and it’s not always the result of a blatant error. Nevertheless, in a hectic environment where people are moving in and out of an operating room, other mistakes may be likely to occur.
Common Surgical Errors In The Operating Room
Certain types of egregious mix-ups are classified as WSPE (wrong site, wrong procedure, wrong patient errors). Wrong-patient errors may occur because two patients have similar last names or because of mistakes in hospital paperwork.
Wrong-site errors commonly involve limbs or organs that are bilateral – arms, legs, or lungs, for example. In a study originally published in the Archives of Surgery Journal, researchers said cognitive challenges are associated with wrong-site surgery. For example, when a doctor is facing a patient, the patient’s left leg corresponds with the doctor’s right leg. In an operating room, a patient may be rotated to be upside-down relative to the surgeon or face-down on the operating table, causing a surgeon to misremember which side is the surgery target. Hospitals are supposed to make marks on a patient’s body indicating which is the correct side for surgery, but marks can wear off, or even be misinterpreted. In addition, X-rays and other imagery may be incorrectly labeled as “left” or “right.”
Neurosurgeons sometimes make wrong-site errors by performing surgery on the wrong vertebrae. In fact, a study published in the World Neurosurgery journal found that of the 569 surgeons who responded to survey questions, almost 50 percent said they had performed surgery on the wrong level of the lumbar spine at least once, with 20 percent of respondents saying they had been subject to at least one malpractice case due to those errors.
Wrong-procedure errors may occur when a surgeon sees one patient after another, as was the case with a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital. He said he had two patients – one requiring carpal tunnel surgery and one requiring surgery on a finger. After performing carpal tunnel surgery, he went to operate on the other patient; hospital staff tension was high, with surgeries behind schedule. The surgeon was preoccupied with the previous carpal tunnel surgery and performed the same procedure again, realizing he had made a mistake moments after the operation was finished.
Other Surgery Errors in Malpractice Claims
Other types of surgical errors include:
- Improper administration of medications or anesthesia
- Causing damage to organs or nerves because of misuse or mishandling of surgical implements
- Failure to remove all surgical items from patients
It’s hard to believe an operating room staff could forget to remove a sponge from a patient’s body, or inadvertently stitch-up the surgical wound with a scalpel inside the patient, but these errors occur in approximately 1 out of every 5,500 to 1 out of every 7,000 surgeries.
Retained surgical items (RSIs) may not be discovered until a patient begins feeling ill, develops an infection, or experiences unexplainable pain. Sometimes, these effects may arise long after the surgery where the error occurred. Usually, patients will require subsequent surgery to remove the object, and the internal damage from RSIs can cause severe injury, illness, and death.
Surgical errors often occur because of multiple factors present at the time, such as operating room traffic, stress, and poor communication. And fatigue has increasingly come into focus as a leading cause of surgical errors.
The Patient Safety Authority of Pennsylvania issued a press release in June 2014 stating that in a nine-year period, fatigue had been a factor in at least 1,600 adverse medical events in hospitals, and of those events, 37 caused harm to patients and four caused death. These mistakes most often occurred in the medical-surgical unit or emergency room. The press release also stated that nurses who work 12-hour shifts common in most hospitals have nearly triple the risk of making an error.
Our Surgical Error Attorneys
Surgeons, nurses, radiologists, anesthesiologists – even the hospital itself – could be to blame when a surgery goes awry. If you or a loved one have suffered due to a surgical error, we want to help you by finding out who was responsible and holding them accountable.
Don’t wait to get help. Contact us today via our online form, or call us at (800) 529-6600.