What Falls Under The Umbrella Of Surgical Errors?

The last thing any person expects when they seek medical care is that they will suffer an injury or illness caused by the negligence of a medical professional. Unfortunately, medical mistakes are not uncommon. In fact, researchers from Johns Hopkins have said that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the country. Some types of medical errors revolve around surgical mistakes. Here, we want to discuss what types of things can go wrong during surgery. In nearly all circumstances, surgical errors are entirely preventable, and medical professionals could be held responsible for their actions if these incidents do occur.

The “Never Events” During Surgery

The types of surgical errors that receive the most attention both within the medical field and in the media are referred to as “never events.” What this means is that these are things that happen during a surgical procedure that should absolutely never occur.

The most common surgical never events involve three different types of errors that can occur:

  1. A surgery involving the wrong patient, the wrong body site, wrong side of the patient, or the wrong surgery.
  2. Retained surgical (foreign) objects left inside the body after a surgery has been completed.
  3. Death during or right after a surgery in a normal, otherwise healthy patient.

Research indicates that these never events occur during surgery approximately 4,000 times each year across the country. One reason that we have good data related to never events is that these types of mistakes have mandatory reporting requirements. In other words, whenever a never event occurs, it is fairly difficult to cover up the incident.

However, there are other types of surgical mistakes that can occur that are not necessarily reportable events but can otherwise lead to permanent injuries, disabilities, or even death.

Other Types of Surgical Errors

Aside from the never events mentioned above, surgeons and surgical teams can also make other errors that cause significant patient harm. This can include:

  • Administering too much or too little anesthesia
  • Failing to check whether or not anesthesia meds will interact with other patient medications
  • Inflicting nerve damage while performing surgery
  • Pre- or post-operative mistakes, such as failing to monitor a patient’s symptoms and vital signs.
  • Infections occurring due to using non-sterile instruments or failing to adequately monitor a patient after the surgery.

Common Causes of Surgical Mistakes

Surgical mistakes can occur for a wide variety of reasons. Even though every surgical error situation is unique, some of the most common causes for these mistakes include the following:

  • Incompetence. It could be the case that a surgeon has not performed the procedure many times in the past and lacks the skills necessary to do so.
  • Insufficient preoperative planning. It is important for a surgeon and the surgical team to be well-prepared for the surgery. This will include reviewing and preparing for any complications that could occur. This also includes ensuring that all necessary equipment is ready and available for the surgeon.
  • Poor communication. It is crucial for every member of the surgical team to properly communicate with one another and about the procedure at hand. Miscommunications about a patient’s history, medication, or surgical procedure can result in a mistake.
  • Fatigue. Surgeons are busy, and if they work very long shifts or for long periods of time without a day off, this can lead to fatigue in the operating room.
  • Drug or alcohol use. Unfortunately, there are some medical providers who turned to alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress of the job. This can lead to disastrous consequences in the operating room.
  • Neglect. There are times when surgeons are not as careful as they should be when it comes to performing a particular surgical procedure. This can include not ensuring the instruments are properly sterilized or can even include the usage of surgical equipment that is known to be defective.

Regardless of how a surgical error occurs, it is crucial for the incident to be investigated. Any person harmed due to the careless or negligent actions of a surgeon or surgical team may be able to recover compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.