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How often do anesthesiologists make drug mistakes during surgery?

Before a surgery takes place, a doctor or surgical nurse will sit down with the patient. In this pre-operative meeting, the doctor will explain the surgical procedure. There is a measure of uncertainty in any surgery, which is why a doctor will discuss the health benefits as well as the potential risks or side effects.

When a patient suffers serious complications beyond the realm of the pre-operative discussion, it is easier to suspect medical malpractice. When the complication falls into the category of “potential risk or side effects,” how do patients know if a mistake was made? How often are doctors making these mistakes?

Medical errors is a leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Institute of Medicine, fatalities outrank automobile accidents and breast cancer with an annual death toll of at least 44,000 people.

Medication errors are a common basis for medical malpractice claims. The wrong medication or too much medication can be like pumping a toxin right into your bloodstream.

Researchers recently conducted a study about medication errors during surgery, scouring available data to determine the frequency of these mistakes. They found that anesthesiologists made a mistake in approximately 5 percent of all drug administrations. That means that one in 20 medications given during surgeries involved either the wrong dosage or medication.

Anesthesiologists are aware of the problem, although possibly not to the full extent. One anesthesiologist noted that although medication is highly regulated throughout hospitals, delivery during surgeries do not have as many built-in safeguards. She explained that the environment itself plays a role, because surgery involves quick, real-time decisions that do not leave room for the same double-checking procedures in place elsewhere.

The anesthesiologist explained that the medication errors often go unnoticed or unreported to patients because they only “change vital signs or [elevate] risk of infection.” She said that patients shouldn’t have to worry about that as they go into surgery.

The problem, as noted by the rate of fatalities related to medical malpractice, is that some patients who may have been spared the concern pre-surgery are forced to face the dangers head-on after surgery. The “elevated risk of infection” becomes a “big deal” for them if they in fact develop an infection, many of which are life threatening.

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