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How Common are Surgical Errors?

  • When undergoing surgery, many patients worry about the possibility of a surgical error that could lead to injury or death. Although most surgeries are completed without serious errors, these errors can be detrimental to the lives of patients and families when they do occur. Below is some basic information about surgical errors, their causes and what patients can do if they become a victim of a surgical error.


    What Is a Surgical Error?


    A surgical error is an error made by the surgeon or the surgical staff that results in the injury or death of the patient. Some of the surgical errors that may occur include:


    • Performing surgery on the wrong part of the body, such as amputating the wrong leg
    • Performing a procedure on the wrong patient
    • Performing the wrong surgical procedure on a patient
    • Leaving a foreign object inside an incision during surgery
    • Giving the patient the wrong amount of anesthesia
    • Failing to monitor the patient's condition properly during or after surgery
    • Failing to follow proper surgical protocols, leading to infections, excessive bleeding or other complications in the patient.

    According to Patient Safety Network, some of these events are so serious that they must be reported when they occur. Of these serious events, the most commonly reported surgical errors are procedures performed on the wrong part of the patient's body and avoidable complications during or after an operation. Errors involving objects retained inside a patient are also reported frequently.


    Causes of Surgical Errors


    Surgical errors are made by accident, but certain issues can make these errors more likely. Some of the factors that may contribute to surgical errors include:


    • Fatigue of the surgeon or surgical staff
    • The use of drugs or alcohol by the surgeon or staff members
    • Poor communication or inaccurate paperwork
    • Taking shortcuts during an operation
    • Poor planning before a procedure
    • Incompetence of the surgeon or other staff members
    • Negligence on the part of the surgeon or other staff members.


    Impact of Surgical Errors on Patients


    Surgical errors can have serious consequences for patients. These consequences depend on the nature of the error made, the severity of the error, the patient's condition and other specific factors. For example, if the surgeon performs a procedure on the wrong patient, that patient may be forced to live with the results of a procedure he or she never needed or wanted. If a surgeon fails to follow proper protocols during a procedure, he or she may perform the procedure incorrectly, leading to a host of possible complications for the patient. If a patient receives the wrong amount of anesthesia, he or she may die during the surgical procedure as a result.


    One of the most common and potentially dangerous results of surgical error is a surgical site infection. Although these infections aren't always related to surgical error, they often occur when surgeons or other surgical staff fail to follow proper sterilization procedures. According to Johns Hopkins, surgical site infections occur in 1 to 3 percent of procedures. These infections may occur close to the surface of the skin, deeper in the incision or below the incision inside the patient's body.


    Taking Action after a Surgical Error


    If you have been injured or someone you love was harmed or killed because of a surgical error, you may be able to take action against the healthcare professional or the facility responsible for the error. In most cases, this will involve filing a medical malpractice claim. State law requires that these claims be filed within a specific amount of time after the procedure, so it is important to act quickly. If you are considering a medical malpractice claim, contact a medical malpractice attorney to learn more about your options.