When surgeons make mistakes
July 25th, 2018 | Michael A. Lombardo, III
A 67-year-old woman is admitted to a teaching hospital for cerebral angiography. One day after that procedure, she undergoes a cardiac electrophysiology study – a procedure she was not scheduled to have. The invasive procedure was to have been performed on a 77-year old woman with a similar name. As a result of some 17 mistakes by a number of people, the 67-year-old was exposed to unnecessary risks. Some of those risks included puncture of the heart, damage to heart valves, blood clots, stroke or heart attack and in rare cases, could have even resulted in death. Unfortunately, this wrong-patient incident is not unusual. A Journal of American Medical Association study identified 5,940 such events over a 13-year period. That’s 457 people per year!
HKQ Law Attorney Michael Lombardo notes that “Every year an estimated 4,000 people who undergo surgery are injured by surgical errors”. These preventable mistakes are called “never events” because they never should have happened.
Common surgical errors
It is often said that “there’s no such thing as minor surgery.” As the statistics bear out, things do go wrong during surgery. Common surgical errors include:
- Leaving surgical equipment (e.g., sponges or instruments) inside a patient
- Using unsterile surgical instruments
- Performing surgery on the wrong body part
- Performing the wrong procedure
- Performing surgery on the wrong patient
- Damaging nerves during procedure
- Cutting or puncturing organs that were not involved in the procedure
- Failing to administer an appropriate dose of anesthesia
Causes of surgical errors
There are a number of reasons why surgical errors occur. They include:
Deficiencies – A surgeon may not have performed a particular procedure very often and simply lacks the skill to perform the surgery properly. Not all surgeons have the necessary skills to adequately perform a given task.
Poor communication – Failure to communicate properly is often a major factor in wrong-procedure, wrong-site and wrong-patient surgeries. Miscommunication can result in serious, sometimes deadly consequences.
Insufficient pre-operative planning – Pre-surgery preparation is crucial to the success of a surgical procedure. Without it, a surgeon may be unable to handle complications which can occur during a procedure. What’s more, the surgical team may not have all the necessary equipment available when it is needed by an experienced surgeon.
Improper work process – Surgeons may not perform certain steps during the procedure, incorrectly concluding that they are not necessary.
Fatigue – Surgeons often work long shifts. The resulting fatigue makes them more likely to make mistakes.
Negligence – Some surgical errors are simply the result of negligence. For example, failure to make sure that all instruments are properly sterilized and equipment is functioning properly. Negligence may result in severe infections, septic shock, and other life-threatening conditions. Failure to monitor equipment or vital signs may also result in injury.
Surgical Error or Bad Outcome?
Not all surgeries result in a positive outcome. However, a bad outcome doesn’t necessarily prove that a mistake was made or that medical malpractice occurred. Nor does a surgical error always rise to the level of malpractice. If the mistake did not fall below the “medical standard of care” or the patient was not harmed by it, there is no malpractice.
The “medical standard of care” is defined as the level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled health care professional, with a similar background and in the same medical community, would have provided under the circumstances that led to the alleged malpractice.
As with any medical malpractice claim, surgical error cases require that four elements be met: duty, breach of duty, causation and damages.
Every medical professional owes their patients a “duty of care”. When a surgeon fails to uphold his or her duty of care – deviating from or fallen below the standard of care – they are liable for any damages that are suffered by the patient as a result. In order to recover compensation in a medical malpractice claim, plaintiffs must prove that there is a direct cause between their injuries (or other damages) and the medical professional’s breach of duty. In order to prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must show that he or she suffered actual damages – whether they be economic (financial damages) or non-economic (pain and suffering).
Why Experienced Legal Representation Matters
Surgical error cases can be very complex. They may include additional issues such as pre-existing conditions, informed consent and equipment malfunction (which could support a product liability claim).
Medical malpractice attorneys handling surgical error cases need to meticulously examine the patient’s hospital records. You have the right to obtain your own medical records. You can also choose to authorize a lawyer to obtain them on your behalf. To speak with one of HKQ Law’s Medical Malpractice Attorneys, call (800) 760-1529.