According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately5.4 million surgical procedures performed annually in the United States. Though all operations involve a certain degree of risk, patients should have the reasonable expectation that a high standard of care will be provided to them. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Each year, thousands of people are affected by preventable surgical errors, a common form of medical malpractice.
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or hospital fails to provide a patient with the required standard of care, thereby causing the patient to suffer harm. A study performed by the Institute of Medicine found that from 44,000 to 98,000 people are killed each year as a result of medical malpractice and thousands more are injured.
Most surgical procedures involve a team of specialists that includes a surgeon, an anesthesiologist, first assistant, circulating nurse and operating room nurse. Each member has specific responsibilities during the operation and can therefore commit medical malpractice. This can encompass a wide range of actions.
Common causes of medical malpractice before, during and after surgery include:
• Inadequate preoperative planning including incomplete patient medical history
and poor risk evaluation
• Failure of Informed Consent in which the doctor does not notify the patient sufficiently
of the nature of the operation, associated risks and alternative forms of treatment
• Failure to properly sterilize surgical instruments or to remove them from the body
• Using ill-maintained, unsafe equipment
• Mistakes involving misinformation, including marking the wrong body site for surgery,
administering improper drug amounts or even confusing one patient record with another
• Impaired judgment due to fatigue or intoxication
• Incompetence or lack of sufficient training that leads to incorrect
incisions, errors in managing anesthesia, etc.
• Failure to follow-up with the patient, monitor progress and modify treatment accordingly
The resulting complications can be minor to catastrophic from infections, blood clots, post-traumatic stress and physical deformities to brain, nerve and organ damage, paralysis, cardiovascular problems, coma and even death. Operations commonly associated with surgical errors include childbirth and those involving the chest, abdomen and throat. Victims of medical malpractice associated with surgery and their families are often left to deal with lifelong repercussions. Those involved may suffer from permanent disabilities, lost wages, chronic pain or in the case of death funeral and medical expenses and significant pain and suffering.
When healthcare providers deviate from the accepted best practices, they can be held legally liable for their actions. Pursuing a claim can help you investigate the cause, discover any relevant history or background information and determine how the incident will affect your future well-being, finances and quality of life.
Article by Shea Bergesen for Lavery Design Associates, Ltd.
copyright 2013. This article may not be reproduced without permission from the author.