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Cognitive bias is referenced as a cause of fatal surgical error


For people in Boston who require a surgical procedure, there is an incalculable amount of trust placed in the surgical team and medical professionals in whose hands the patient's life will rest. For the most part, that trust is rewarded as doctors and hospital staff act professionally and complete the procedures without a hitch. However, there are instances in which mistakes are made. Some mistakes are of the egregious variety and end up causing long-term injury and even death.

One such incident sparked significant changes at Tufts Medical Center. After a 74-year-old woman had the wrong dye injected into her during a minor surgical procedure on her back. Sadly, this caused her to become ill and she died. The dye in particular specifically says that it is not to be used on the spine. Doctors admitted to the woman's sons that they had given her the incorrect dye in error. The issue is believed to have stemmed from the neurosurgeon not bothering to read the label because he anticipated what it would say and felt there wouldn't be an issue injecting the dye into the woman.

This is a growing problem known as "cognitive bias." Many patients are subject to mistakes made due to it. Just because medical professionals are experienced and believe they know what is safe and what isn't doesn't mean they do. If they're used to what a chart says, it doesn't mean they don't have to read it. If they're aware of what damage medications can do if administered improperly, it doesn't automatically imply they'll double check to make certain what they're doing is appropriate.

The hospital in question has taken steps to ensure that the staff must follow a checklist to have safeties in place for the patient and so the staff doesn't make a mistake similar to the one that happened with the deceased woman. A surgeon mistake used to be easier to discover by doing a small bit of research, but that's no longer the case. If there is an incident that results in worsened condition or a fatal surgical error, those who have been affected by it need to understand how to move forward with a lawsuit. A legal professional experienced in medical mistakes may be of assistance in these situations.

Source: Boston Globe, "Surgical error at Tufts prompts widespread changes," Liz Kowalczyk, accessed Sept. 30, 2014

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