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Surgical Mistakes

According to a study researched and published by Johns Hopkins Medicine, at least 4,000 surgical errors known as “never events” occur each year. The researchers define “never events” as “occurrences for which there is universal professional agreement that they should never happen during surgery.” Examples include leaving a foreign object such as a sponge or a towel inside a patient’s body, performing the wrong procedure on a patient, operating on the wrong patient or performing surgery on the wrong body site.


In addition to errors classified as never events, there are other kinds of surgical mistakes that can lead to serious or deadly consequences. Since anesthesia is typically used in most surgical procedures, mistakes in administering or monitoring anesthesia are also possible.


The causes of preventable injuries and complications from surgery include:


  • Overtired or overworked surgical staff members
  • Charting mistakes
  • Poor communication between members of the medical team about a patient’s history and risk factors
  • Contaminated instruments or equipment
  • Failure to count surgical instruments, sponges, and other accessories before and after surgery
  • Inadequate hand washing and other sterilization procedures



Surgical Mistakes also known as “Never Events”


  • Wrong Site Surgery


This refers to a surgeon who operates on the wrong body part or organ. This kind of mistake happens when a procedure is performed on the opposite hand, foot, knee or hip; for example, replacing the right knee when the left knee is the one in need of replacement. There are also cases where the wrong limb is amputated, which is devastating for the patient and the family.


  • Surgical Instruments Left in Body


When a hospital does not have a strict procedure for keeping track of surgical instrument and accessories, it is possible for instruments, sponges or other items to be left inside the body. This kind of mistake can require additional surgery to remove the item and can also cause infection or other serious complications before the problem is discovered.


  • Operating on the Wrong Patient


If the wrong patient is operated on, that patient is subject to a variety of serious complications, depending on the type of surgery and that is performed. Misidentifying a patient can also result in the administration of medications that may be harmful to the person undergoing the surgery.


  • Right Patient, Wrong Procedure


Charting mistakes or faulty communication can result in the wrong surgical procedure being performed; such as, removing the appendix of a patient who was scheduled for a tonsillectomy or other procedure. Besides having to undergo another surgery to correct the original problem, the patient has to recover from the first procedure, which could include unnecessary complications or scarring.


Other Surgical Mistakes


  • Infection from Unsanitary instruments or Poor Sanitizing Procedures


Contaminated instruments, inadequate hand washing or unsterile operating room conditions can lead to serious or life-threatening infections, especially in elderly patients or those with compromised immune systems.


  • Internal Damage caused by Careless Instrument Use


Accidentally puncturing or otherwise damaging an internal organ or surrounding tissue with a scalpel or other sharp surgical instrument can result in a life-threatening organ or tissue injuries, internal bleeding or infection.


  • Nerve Damage


Severing or nicking a nerve or inadvertently damaging another body part, such as a disk, so that a nerve is adversely affected, can result in nerve damage, which can cause pain and loss of mobility. Some cases of nerve damage can be reversed through physical therapy and/or medication; however, some kinds of nerve damage can be irreversible, causing lifelong pain and/or disability.


Anesthesia Errors


Most surgical procedures involve some type of anesthesia. While most patients do not suffer ill effects from anesthesia, certain people, such as the elderly or those undergoing lengthy procedures, have an increased risk of complications. These include postoperative confusion, pneumonia, or even stroke and heart attack, according to information from the Mayo Clinic.


Here a few of the errors that can cause a patient to have an adverse reaction to anesthesia:


  • Failure to take patient’s history into account when administering and monitoring anesthesia


Because certain conditions may increase the risk of serious complications from anesthesia, the anesthesia team should be aware of the patient’s history and provide appropriate monitoring during surgery.


  • Physician’s Failure to Convey Necessary Information to Anesthesiologist


It is the doctor’s responsibility to communicate information that can affect a patient’s reaction to anesthesia so appropriate precautions can be taken. Failure to maintain accurate records and convey necessary information could be considered negligence on the part of the physician.


  • Incorrect Administration or Monitoring of Anesthesia


This can cause nerve damage or other serious complications depending on the patient’s condition or allergies to certain anesthesia medications.


Conditions that can increase the risk of anesthesia complication include:


  • Smoking
  • Seizures
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Other medical conditions involving your heart, lungs or kidneys
  • Medications, such as aspirin, that can increase bleeding
  • History of heavy alcohol use
  • Drug allergies
  • History of adverse reactions to anesthesia


If you or a loved one has been harmed by a negligent surgeon, anesthesiologist or another member of the surgical team, contact us immediately for a free consultation.


Sources: http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/medical-malpractice/surgery-errors.html