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Surgical errors may be fatal no matter how routine the procedure

In Massachusetts and around the U.S., patients undergoing surgery are usually asked to sign a detailed consent form before an operation. One reason might be that surgical errors by the doctor or other member of the OR team are always a possibility, even if they have performed a particular procedure thousands of times. Experts say that every patient is different and may react negatively to any aspect of a surgery.

The director of the Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said that one unpredictable problem that may occur during surgery is uncontrollable bleeding. In extreme cases, such as the recent one involving a 13-year-old girl who died after a tonsillectomy, the patient may nearly bleed to death or suffer other fatal surgery complications such as infection or collateral tissue damage. Some people's blood doesn't clot well, he said, and that could lead a small nick to bleed out of control.

The director added that patients who have pre-existing medical conditions such as lung, liver or heart problems face a greater risk during even unrelated surgery than the general population. Also at higher risk are obese patients, including children. Another Johns Hopkins official said that surgical complications probably comprise the third-leading cause of death in the nation, with roughly 200,000 people dying each year.

Surgeon malpractice may be the cause of a fatal surgical error. A surgeon mistake such as surgical equipment left inside a patient or an improper use of medical equipment could result in serious injury or death. Individuals hurt by a careless surgeon or negligent operating room staff might be entitled to compensation.

Source: CNN, "When routine surgeries go wrong", Jacque Wilson, December 19, 2013

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