How Often Do Surgical Errors Happen?
September 12, 2021
Surgical errors injure thousands of patients each year. Despite growing awareness of the adverse effects of surgical errors, mistakes continue to occur, such as operating on the wrong body part or performing unnecessary surgeries. Although the introduction of computerized technology has improved surgical outcomes in some areas, robotic surgery has actually resulted in more accidental lacerations and tissue damage in other procedures.
Surgeons and health care providers are legally bound to follow professional standards in delivering treatment. Patients have the right to file a medical malpractice claim if a breach of this duty causes them to suffer unnecessary harm.
According to research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, medical errors are a leading cause of death in the U.S., and surgical errors continue to account for a significant number of these adverse events. Scores of surgical errors happen every day in the U.S., and at least 4,000 incidents are reported each year, according to the research. These errors often result in serious injuries, which could have been avoided.
In addition to preventable injury, adverse events due to surgical error may result in prolonged hospitalization or permanent physical disability. Patients between 40 and 49 years old are most likely to experience injury due to surgical errors.
What are the Most Common Types of Surgical Errors?
Surgical errors may be categorized as errors of omission, which occur when health care providers fail to take necessary actions, or errors of commission, when providers take the wrong action. The most common types of surgical errors are errors of commission, which include the following:
- Leaving a foreign object inside a patient.
- Administering the wrong dosage of anesthesia.
- Operating on the wrong body part.
- Performing a procedure on the wrong patient.
- Inflicting nerve damage.
- Causing unnecessary lacerations.
Studies indicate that the use of robotic surgery has resulted in an increase of lacerations and injury to tissues surrounding the surgical site, producing hemorrhaging.
Errors of commission, such as operating on the wrong body part or the wrong patient, are often referred to as “never events,” meaning they never should have happened if staff were following standard protocols. Errors of omission can also have tragic consequences, including complications that may develop due to a failure to diagnose an infection after an operation.
Sometimes, surgical errors result in a near-miss, which means the patient could have suffered an adverse event due to the error, but did not, either by chance or because hospital staff intervened when the error occurred. It is important for staff to report near-miss events in order to prevent mistakes in the future. Surgical errors do not arise out of nowhere. There are reasons why mistakes continue to occur even today.
Why Do Surgical Errors Continue to Occur?
Doctors and hospitals are well aware of the financial and human cost of surgical errors. Most malpractice claims arising from patients who were hospitalized are related to surgical errors. The reasons surgical errors continue to occur despite this awareness include but are not limited to the following:
- Miscommunication between surgeons, anesthesiologists, and staff.
- The surgeon’s failure to communicate with patients.
- Understaffing and/or overworked staff.
- Time pressure to clear up backlog of impending surgeries.
- Flaws in hospital protocols and systems.
- Lack of training.
- Hospital hierarchy.
Many hospital settings have a hierarchical culture that prohibits staff from questioning a surgeon’s decisions. There are a number of malpractice cases that have been brought against surgeons who failed to listen to nurses or junior staff regarding the site of the surgery or other factors. Due to their perceived status, surgeons may also not see the need to spend much time communicating patients or their families prior to or after an operation.
In other instances, surgeries may be performed in a rush to get the job done, despite a lack of biopsy results or other imaging test data. Poorly trained staff may make incomplete or inaccurate assessments of test results or mislabel lab specimens.
Training may also be a factor among doctors and surgeons. For example, some surgeons may not have received adequate training on robotic surgery before they actually perform operations using these advanced systems.
How can Surgeons and Hospitals Prevent Unnecessary Injury to Patients?
There are a number of ways in which hospitals and surgeons can work to prevent unnecessary injury to patients, including the following:
- Facilitate open communication between surgeons and staff.
- Allow patients and family members an opportunity to voice concerns prior to surgery and potentially correct mistakes before they happen.
- Review and adjust hospital policies and protocols regularly.
- Double and triple check everything, especially the body part that will be operated on.
- Give all members of the surgical team a pre-operative time-out pause when the patient is on the operating table to ensure that the patient, the procedure, and the surgical site are all correct.
Every health care professional involved in a surgical operation must be held accountable for errors. However, in addition to individual accountability, the hospital itself should continually review and update its systems to make it more difficult for staff to make errors. Staff should be rewarded, not punished, for reporting errors and suggesting ways that protocols can be improved.
What are the Legal Rights of Injured Patients?
Hospitals, doctors, and other health care professionals who have agreed to provide medical treatment to patients owe a duty of care to provide them with the same degree of skill and knowledge that another reasonable practitioner would provide under similar circumstances. Patients who have been injured by negligent health care providers have a right to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against them if they can prove that they breached their duty of care.
What Should Patients Know About Pursuing a Medical Malpractice Claim?
It is important for patients to know that pursuing a medical malpractice claim is a complicated and lengthy process. Many times, an adverse outcome after surgery is not due to medical malpractice. Proving malpractice requires enlisting legal professionals who have experience winning cases by working in conjunction with medical experts.
A qualified lawyer understands the importance of persevering to see that clients who have been harmed by negligent practitioners obtain full recovery of to pay for all costs associated with the losses they have endured to date and the long road to rehabilitation ahead.
Galfand Berger LLP has achieved notable successes in the area of medical malpractice, including the following:
If you were harmed by a surgical error, we can answer your questions and advise you regarding the validity of your claim. If we believe you have reason to file a lawsuit, we will fight on your behalf, obtaining all relevant medical records and listening carefully to your situation. We will then hire experienced medical experts to examine these documents to build evidence needed to support your case. It is important to consult with a lawyer as soon as you are aware that your injury may have been caused by a surgical error because there is a strict time limitation for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Protect the Rights of Patients Harmed by Surgeries Gone Wrong
Patients place an enormous amount of trust in their doctors when they agree to undergo surgery. They do not expect to be injured by mistakes that could have been avoided. Our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP work hard to protect the rights of patients harmed by surgeries gone wrong. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or contact us online for a free consultation. We have offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, and we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.