When you have to go to the emergency room, you don’t have time to research surgeons or ask pressing questions about your procedure. You must trust that the person on call can perform your surgery correctly, stopping your pain or possibly saving your life. Even for those who have had time to plan their surgery, there’s a high degree of trust involved. Medical malpractice attorneys like me know that, unfortunately, errors do occur, and the patients are the ones who suffer for it.
Medical malpractice occurs when the standard of care designed to keep patients safe and well is not followed. In a recent, five-year study by the insurance provider Coverys, 25% of medical malpractice claims cited surgical errors. Even the insurance companies helping to cover liable doctors, hospitals, and other medical professionals are especially concerned about surgical errors, so we should be too.
Common Types of Surgical Errors
Unnecessary Surgery/Wrong Patient for Procedure
It sounds ridiculous, but clerical errors and mislaid paperwork can lead to a patient being subjected to the wrong surgery or a surgery they didn’t need at all.
Wrong Site of Surgery
A knee replacement may be performed on the wrong leg, the wrong arm may be amputated, the wrong kidney operated on. All of which are serious and dangerous errors resulting in extensive suffering for the patient.
Damage to Internal Organs
The surgeon making a physical error is the most common cause of damage to internal organs, and additional surgery is often needed to address the damage. The patient may also be kept in surgery much longer than intended, increasing the severity of any complications and compounding the difficulty of their recovery.
The nervous system of the body is very delicate. Nerves can be damaged by the anesthesiologist administering anesthesia improperly or by the surgeon making a physical error, resulting in immense pain or lose of feeling.
Surgical Instruments Left in the Body
Many hospitals require all surgical instruments, including gauze, to be counted before and after procedures to prevent this error from occurring. However, that is not the case at all hospitals. Attempting to save time, the surgical team or surgeon may skip this step, which then requires a second surgery and can lead to nerve or organ damage as well as infection.
Improperly sanitizing the environment, the entry point on your body, or the medical tools can lead to infections, which can be more difficult to recover from than the surgery itself. In some cases, untreated infections can be deadly.
All surgeries come with some degree of risk. Usually that risk is low and in most cases the risks are discussed ahead of time with your doctor. Do not sign a informed consent waver for the surgery unless you have had an extensive conversation with your doctor about the surgery and its risks.
Common Causes of Surgical Errors
- Incompetence—The surgeon’s inexperience and lack of skill for a particular procedure can lead to errors and negative consequences for the patient.
- Insufficient Planning—Before surgery, your surgeon should carefully review your x-rays and other scans as well as the surgical plan. They should also prepare for any complications. Nurses and other members of the surgical team should carefully prepare the surgical theater and all tools and equipment that might be needed.
- Improper Procedure—Surgeons must execute precise steps during surgery in a specific order, and they should have reviewed these steps before your procedure. However, if the surgeon takes shortcuts or skips steps, your life and health are put at risk. If the hospital requires all tools to be counted before and after the procedure but this step is skipped, the team is risking leaving a medical instrument inside your body.
- Poor Communication—Communication with you as the patient before the surgery as well as among the members of the surgical team is critically important for a procedure to go well. Operating on the wrong surgery site is an example of poor communication, as is giving a patient the wrong medication or medication they are known to be allergic to.
- Fatigue—As with anyone, fatigue makes us less sharp and able to do our jobs correctly. Surgeons, doctors, and other medical professionals are under an especially high obligation to ensure they have enough rest to perform your surgery flawlessly, regardless of their long shifts or additional obligations.
- Drugs/Alcohol—The pressure of being responsible for a person’s life as well as the stress of long shifts lead some doctors to turn to drugs or alcohol to help them relax or sleep. As with any addict, they may misjudge how these substances are affecting them and may knowingly operate under their influence.
- Neglect—Any form of neglect, including not asking the patient the right questions ahead of surgery and improperly sterilizing or preparing surgery tools, can result in catastrophic consequences for the patient.
If you suffered because of a surgical error, even if you aren’t sure exactly what caused the error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney like me right away. As a registered nurse, I am very familiar with the standard of care and how surgeons are to conduct themselves during a procedure. I’m also adept at reading medical documents. You shouldn’t have to suffer due to anyone’s neglect, and I can help you discover exactly what happened to you and hold the negligent person or medical institution accountable.