Types of Surgical Errors

Posted By Kinnard, Clayton & Beveridge || May 20, 2016

Surgical complications happen every year. In fact, research estimates that hospital errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S, with an estimated 440,000 deaths each year due to preventable hospital errors.

“Never Events” Errors

“Never events” are what researchers call surgical mistakes that should never happen, and are usually caused by clerical or communication errors. During a study conducted from 1990-2010, results showed there were nearly 10,000 paid malpractice claims for “never event” cases, totaling $1.3 billion.

  • Foreign objects: As hard as it may be to believe, research shows that surgeons accidentally leave a foreign object — like a sponge, towel, or other medical supply — inside their patients 39 times a week. This can cause anything from pain to infections to death, depending on the location and type of object left inside.
  • Operating on the wrong patient: Research shows that the wrong procedure is performed on a patient 20 times per week. This can be caused by clerical errors, failure to properly identify which patient is on the operating table, and miscommunication between surgeons. This can lead to perfectly healthy organs being removed, along with other problems.
  • Operating on the wrong area of the body: Even when the correct patient ends up on the operating table, things like clerical errors, failure to properly establish which procedure needs to be performed, and miscommunication can lead to the wrong surgery being performed. Research shows this occurs 20 times per week across the U.S. This can lead to similar issues as the ones listed above.

Most medical centers have patient safety procedures to help prevent these kinds of errors, but even with their precautions, mistakes can still happen. New technology, like surgical sponges with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags that can be detected with a scanner, will hopefully limit those mistakes.

Other Common Errors

While many surgeries end without incident, occasionally errors occur that permanently affect the health of or endanger the life of a patient. While not as preventable as leaving a sponge inside someone, these are other common surgical errors.

  • Damage to internal organs: While performing surgery, all it can take is a miniscule slip of the scalpel, laser, or scissors to perforate or puncture a nearby organ. Organ tissue is incredibly delicate, but those minor slips can lead to severe and potentially lasting health complications.
  • Nerve damage: Similar to internal organ damage, the slightest slip of a surgeon’s tool can lead to nerve damage. In especially bad cases, this can lead to numbness or loss of movement in the affected areas.
  • Infection: If you’ve ever got a paper cut, you know just how quickly the open area can become infected. Now imagine that the paper cut is several inches long and internal organs are exposed, and you can imagine the dangers of infection in an operating room. Unsanitary surgical instruments can lead to infection, which is especially dangerous for someone with a compromised immune system and can lead to death.
  • Anesthesia: Anesthesia is the wonderful concoction of chemicals that allows surgeons to perform their jobs without needing to give the patient a stick to bite down on, but when it isn’t administered correctly it can become a dangerous cocktail. Too much anesthesia, and the patient may never wake up, or wake up with brain damage. Not enough, and there’s a risk of the patient waking up mid-surgery.

Many surgical errors are completely preventable, and here at Kinnard, Clayton & Beveridge, we provide clients from Nashville, TN and the surrounding areas with the high-quality legal services during their times of need. If you or a loved one are the victim of medical malpractice and need an attorney, contact us here.

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