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Study finds that medication errors occur in roughly half of surgeries

As the news media periodically carries stories of patients having the wrong limb amputated or being diagnosed with the wrong medical condition, you may already be aware that doctors make mistakes from time-to-time. However, you may underestimate the chances of a surgical error happening to you and a loved one. This is understandable, since many surgeries occur without incident. As a result, it is easy to believe that when surgical errors occur, it will likely happen to someone else.

Medication errors occur in about half of surgeries

Sadly, your assumptions about your chances of experiencing a surgical error are likely too low, especially when it comes to receiving the correct medication. During an anesthesiology conference during October of this year, the results of a study were released that indicated that nearly half of the surgeries conducted at a major hospital in Massachusetts involved a medication error.

During the study, researchers reviewed and analyzed 277 surgeries performed between 2013 and 2014 at Massachusetts General Hospital, an acknowledged leader in taking steps to reduce medication errors. Unfortunately, the study found that, despite the safeguards in place at the hospital, surgeons and other medical professionals made errors in 124 of them. These errors included:

• Giving the incorrect dosage of medication

• Failing to treat changes in patient’s vital signs during surgery

• Improper or incorrect labeling of medication

• Failing to document the drug or dosage

During most of the surgeries studied, more that one medication was used. Consequently, in the 277 surgeries, the surgeons used a total of 3,675 medications. Of the medication administrations, researchers found a total of 193 separate medication errors and adverse drug events occurred during 124 separate surgical procedures. Researchers determined that these errors were preventable in about 80 percent of the cases.

Unfortunately, these errors were not trivial. The study stated that two-thirds of the errors were considered “serious.” Additionally, two percent of them were classified as life-threatening (thankfully, no patient died as a result of these errors). The remaining errors were classified as “significant.”

Stressful environment contributes to the problem

The study’s authors speculated that quick decisions required in surgery (especially emergency surgery) contributes to the high number of medical errors occurring during surgical procedures. During many surgeries, the checklists and other safety requirements normally in place are sometimes relaxed. Although this may allow quicker action, it often comes at the price of the patient’s safety.

Unfortunately, since Massachusetts General already has significant safeguards in place to protect patients from medication errors, the study’s authors speculate that this type of error may occur at a higher rate at most other hospitals nationwide.

Injured? Contact an attorney

Unlike many other errors, medication errors are not immediately obvious. In many cases, you are unaware that an error occurred during the surgery due to the anesthesia. Additionally, medical staff are reluctant to admit that an error occurred. As a result, if you or a loved one were injured (or killed) during a surgery, it is wise to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney, as you may only be able to discover the existence of a medication error only after filing a malpractice lawsuit. An attorney can ensure that the causes of the injuries (or death) are thoroughly investigated and the responsible parties are held accountable for their mistakes.