Whether it is a simple arthroscopic knee repair or a complex spinal surgery, every surgery carries risk. Adding to the seriousness is when a problem arises from a mistake made during surgery. However, if the surgeon does make an error, patients are protected under medical malpractice laws.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice in surgeries is when the events that occurred during the surgery did not conform to the accepted medical standard of care for that particular procedure. If the surgical care provided resulted in harm to a patient, there may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. If you weren’t harmed despite receiving care below the accepted standards, then there is no medical malpractice.
Generally, standard of care is defined as care that any physician or other health care professional with similar experience and training would provide to patients needing similar care in the same geographic area.
Most surgical error cases are reasonably easy to determine because it is apparent that the surgeon made an error in providing the medically acceptable standard of care. When a surgical error does occur, the crucial point becomes whether the patient was harmed by the surgical error.
What is a Surgical Error?
A surgical error is any preventable mistake made during surgery. Every surgery carries an element of risk. Patients are asked to sign a form before undergoing any surgery that states:
- They have been informed of the potential risks of the surgery AND;
- They understand those risks and are consenting to the surgery regardless. (This form is commonly known as an “informed consent” form).
The errors listed on the informed consent form are different from surgical errors. Surgical errors are beyond the scope of the known risks of a particular surgical procedure. The risks on the informed consent are “expected.” Surgical risks are unexpected.
Why do Surgical Errors Occur?
Most surgeons tell patients that no two surgeries are alike since each patient is unique. Each surgical error is also unique, as are the causes for the error. There are six common reasons for surgical errors:
Lack of experience/ability.
Surgeon performs a procedure they do not perform often or, lack the ability to perform it effectively.
Insufficient preoperative planning.
This occurs when a surgeon does not take the appropriate preoperative steps to review and plan for each patient’s surgery. Preoperative planning includes taking any complications that can arise into consideration. Planning also encompasses the surgical staff ensuring that all the necessary instruments and equipment are available and ready for use.
Improper work processes.
An example of this would be if a surgeon decides some steps that most surgeons use during a procedure are not necessary, when in fact, they are.
Poor communication between the surgeon and support staff.
This can cause errors in medication dosage or not having the correct equipment available during a procedure. A similar event occurs when the surgeon fails to verify the surgery site with the patient prior to surgery.
This is common among surgeons. When people are tired, they tend to make more mistakes.
Use of controlled substances.
This can include use of prescription drugs, and alcohol, which should never be used before surgery.
Neglect occurs when a surgeon fails to be careful. This can happen during in-office procedures when instruments may not have been properly sterilized or if equipment known to be defective is used. It is important to remember that neglect can include many more situations.
Examples of Surgical Errors
The number of surgical errors is as varied as the types of surgeries. However, there are some that are more common than others. Some common surgical errors can include (but are not limited to):
- Nerve injury
- Anesthesia errors
- Performing surgery in the wrong location such as the left knee rather than the right
- Leaving surgical equipment inside a patient
- Operating on the wrong patient
- Operating on the wrong body part
How we can help you
Undergoing surgery is an extremely serious event. Patients put trust in surgeons and expect to be treated with the highest level of care and professionalism. Surgical errors can have a serious and negative effect on the well being of a patient.
If you believe you or a loved one has been affected by a surgical error, you have rights and may be entitled to compensation.
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