Surgical error can result in injury or death of patients. Surgical error is a form of medical malpractice. Injury or death as a result of surgical error is one of the leading reasons for lawsuits in the United States. Surgical error is preventable by physicians or medical staff in nearly all situations.
Types of Surgical Errors
There are many different errors that can be made during surgery. Although there are many factors that can complicate surgeries, physicians must be diligent to assess the situation and mitigate all complications. Lack of physician awareness can be dangerous during surgery. Hospital personnel other than surgeons can be involved in an incidence of surgical error. Operating room nurses and anesthesiologists have been found at fault in many cases of surgical error.
Types of surgical errors include:
- Anesthesia error
- Bowel or organ perforation
- Performing wrong procedure
- Surgery on wrong body part
- Objects left inside patient
- Use of unsanitary equipment
- Nerve Damage
- Prolonged surgery
While errors can occur during any kind of surgery, certain types of surgery carry a higher risk of surgical error. More errors occur during gastric bypass surgeries, laparoscopic procedures, obstetric procedures, and plastic surgery than any other types of surgery. Most of these types of surgery are highly invasive, and carry a high risk of complications from blood loss and infection from tissue exposure to air. Laparoscopic surgery can be risky because of the use of remote viewing equipment to provide all sensory feedback. Inclusion of robotics increases the risk of surgeon inexperience with the procedure.
Effects of Surgical Error
Anesthesia errors can be traumatizing, if a patient wakes up during a surgery, or regains feeling in the case of a local anesthetic. Overdose of anesthesia can be harmful or even deadly. Coma, asphyxiation, brain damage, and coma are all possible consequences of errors in administration of anesthesia.
Bowel perforation, performing the wrong procedure or on the wrong body part, or leaving objects inside the patient after surgery all have a high risk of fatality. Objects left inside of a patient can cause infection and pain. Performing the wrong procedure or a procedure on the wrong body part combines possible complications from the improper surgery with the elements of continued suffering from the procedure that was not performed. If the reason for the surgery was life-threatening, the patient may die before the correct procedure can be performed. Carelessness during follow-up care after surgery can cause infection and is also considered to be a type of surgical error.
Reasons for Surgical Errors
During a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, physicians sited the chief cause of surgical errors as burnout. Going into the surgery tired is something a surgeon should never do, but hospital staffing issues and long work hours may cause this scenario. Surgeons may also suffer emotional distress or depression as a side effect of viewing the horrors of surgery every day. Stress from going into such pressurized “life or death” situations so frequently can take a toll on surgeons.
Hospitals should have an active program in place to identify and reduce surgeon burnout. Shorter shifts and fewer surgeries can be accomplished with proper staffing, and can help to keep surgeons well rested. Personal acquaintance with patients may also help reduce surgical error, as surgeons also cited depersonalization as a reason for surgical error.
How to Handle Surgical Errors
Patients that have been the victim of surgical errors should contact an attorney as soon as possible. All states have a statute of limitations on how long after a surgical procedure is performed a patient can file a surgical error claim. In the state of Florida, the statute of limitations for all types of medical malpractice is two years. An attorney will be able to help victims of surgical errors, as well as family members that have suffered the loss of a loved one due to surgical errors. An attorney will be able to give advice about what financial compensation may be available to patients, to assist with medical bills and other costs that are a direct result of surgical error.