Holding Doctors Responsible For Surgical Errors
We put a great deal of trust in our medical professionals, who we expect to use their expertise, experience, and training in diagnosing, advising, and treating us. Often, this trust is repaid by careful diagnosis, treatment, and eventual recovery. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and some patients find themselves treated by careless or even reckless doctors, sustaining serious injuries and enduring significant pain and suffering as a result. In some tragic cases, a person could even end up losing his or her life because of a physician’s negligence.
While any type of mistake made during the diagnosis and treatment process can wreak havoc on a person’s health, surgical errors tend to be particularly dangerous. Fortunately, it is possible to hold negligent surgeons accountable for their failure to provide adequate care, so if you or a loved one were injured by the carelessness of a medical professional, you should reach out to an experienced Florida surgical error lawyer for help.
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Surgical Errors Cause Serious Injuries
According to a report from Fierce Healthcare, surgical errors are the second leading cause of medical malpractice claims against doctors. This information comes from the liability insurer Coverys, which looked at five years’ worth of malpractice claims. Alleged surgical errors accounted for roughly 1 in 4 medical malpractice claims. This was second only to diagnostic errors, which comprised roughly 1 in 3 malpractice claims.
Many things can go wrong with surgery. However, Coverys found that nearly 80% of malpractice claims for surgical errors stemmed from inadequate performance on the part of the surgeon. For example, a surgeon could nick a healthy organ or cause excessive bleeding. A surgeon could also leave an implement behind or make some other error in the operating room due to a lack of technical skill.
Of course, errors can be made in all phases of surgery. A doctor could fail to adequately inform a patient of their options before wheeling them into the operating room. Doctors can also make mistakes regarding planning or during follow-up.
General surgery was most likely to lead to a malpractice claim, comprising 22% of claims. Other specialties at risk for a malpractice claim include orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery. These three accounted for nearly 50% of all medical malpractice claims.
A surgical error can lead to injuries both large and small. About 30% of the claims analyzed were for “permanent significant” injuries, such as disability. Almost 10% of claims were for the death of a patient, which is always a red flag that something might have gone wrong in the operating room. A surgical error can cause permanent disability but might also require corrective surgery, which is expensive and carries many complications. Many patients who survive a botched surgery need extensive rehabilitation and ongoing care.
Q). Should Operating Rooms Use a “Sterile Cockpit” Approach?
A). Reducing malpractice claims is a key goal for insurers. One focus has been on reducing any distractions in the operating room, such as irrelevant conversations that can take someone’s attention away from the task at hand. Other recommendations include keeping visitors out of the operating room and turning of cell phones – which we hope is happening already! Operating rooms are encouraged to become like the “sterile cockpits” used in the airline industry, where pilots and other crew are prohibited from having side conversations during landing and takeoff.
What Qualifies as a Surgical Error?
Surgery is complicated and often, there is no guarantee of success. For this reason, patients who are undergoing an operation are required to acknowledge the risk that complications could arise during or after the procedure. Some complications, however, when they are the result of negligent or reckless conduct, do not fall under this category. Instead, this is a breach of the standard of care, which means that injured parties could be entitled to compensation for their losses.
Many times, patients sustain injury due to a surgical error on the part of the medical team in the operating room. When that is the case a surgeon, physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional can be held liable for medical malpractice. Below are some of the common errors made during surgery:
Objects Left Inside Body
Surgical teams rely on many tools to help them safely do their jobs. Although it may sound as though it could never happen, there are times when surgeons and other healthcare professionals unintentionally leave instruments and tools inside a patient’s body. Sponges are the most common tool left inside a body because they are absorbent and so, they soak up the blood and other fluid within the body. A sponge then becomes the same color as the rest of the cavity, making it more difficult to see and therefore, remove. Still, surgical teams are responsible for counting the tools and instruments before and after surgery to ensure nothing is left inside a patient. When implements are left behind, patients can suffer pain and possibly need to undergo a second, costly surgery. If your surgeon left a foreign object inside you during surgery, contact a Miami medical malpractice attorney now. You could be entitled to compensation.
Common objects that surgical teams fail to remove include:
- Sharp objects;
- Stapler parts;
- Surgical sponges;
- Clamps; and
- Broken pieces from other instruments.
These objects can press on nerves and other soft tissue, causing continuous pain. Sponges can also become infected, spreading the infection to other parts of the body. Corrective surgery carries the same complications as all surgeries, including anesthesia problems, infection, and additional surgical errors. These surgeries are also expensive, requiring more time to recover.
Q). Why Do Surgeons Sometimes Leave Objects Behind?
A). The operating room is a stressful and busy place, with many people assisting the lead surgeon. Often, implements are left behind because of a breakdown in communication. One member of the team might believe that someone else has removed the implement when no one did. Some hospitals may lack standardized policies for accounting for all objects. For example, teams should count the number of sponges inserted and then count again when they are removed. Someone on the team must be responsible for documenting this information. If necessary, the team might also order X-rays or other imaging tests to look for objects left behind before completing surgery.
Operating on Wrong Part of the Body
Although not as common as objects being left behind, surgeons do sometimes operate on the wrong part of the body. This will have devastating consequences for the patient. For example, a surgeon may have to amputate a left leg but they amputate the right one instead. After the surgery, the patient will have to undergo surgery again to remove the left leg and they will be left completely amputated from the waist down.
Performing the Wrong Procedure
There are many reasons a surgeon may perform the wrong procedure. They may confuse one patient for another, or they may not read a patient’s chart correctly. A patient can suffer serious injuries when this occurs. For example, a patient may receive a pacemaker when they do not need it, which can lead to serious injuries and even wrongful death. Surgeons perform the wrong procedure on patients much more often than many people think.
Most patients that undergo surgery require some general anesthesia so they are not awake during the procedure. If too little anesthesia is used, the patient may wake up during surgery and experience immense pain and trauma. If too much anesthesia is used, it can result in permanent injuries, such as brain damage, or a patient may not wake up at all, resulting in wrongful death.
Additional Errors Include:
- Operating on the wrong patient;
- Making anesthesia errors, causing a lack of oxygen and subsequent brain damage;
- Using non-sterilized surgical instruments, resulting in an infection;
- Failing to use the proper surgical procedures; or
- Failing to provide adequate post-operative care to a patient.
Some of these problems may only result in a minor injury, like an infection, that can easily be treated if diagnosed early enough. Others, however, including anesthesia errors, could end up causing permanent disability or even death.
Surgery is always a scary prospect for patients, even when the procedure is considered minor and routine. All surgeries carry a certain degree of risk and there is always the possibility of something going wrong. When they do, patients are the ones who suffer serious injuries. Sometimes, those injuries are catastrophic. At Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum Bluestein, LLP, we focus on patients’ rights when surgical errors injure them. These are not easy cases to bring, and doctors and hospitals vigorously defend themselves.
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To collect compensation for a surgical error, an injured party must be able to prove that the injury in question would not have been the reasonably foreseeable result of the procedure if another competent surgeon had performed the same procedure using the current standard of care. Often, this burden is relatively easy to meet. Is it obvious, for instance, even to laymen, that leaving an instrument inside a person’s body or operating on the wrong person is negligent? In more complicated cases, it is typically necessary to obtain the opinion of an expert who can testify as to the proper standard of care.
Surgical errors will continue to happen, and injured patients and their family members need a seasoned malpractice attorney in their corner to fight for the maximum compensation. To speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney about filing a medical malpractice claim, please call us at 305-371-2692 today.