Surgery can be intimidating, but when it is necessary, we rely on our medical professionals to make sure an operation goes smoothly. We trust surgeons to do their jobs correctly, but no matter how accomplished they are, there is always the risk of error. An error in this sense is an act or decision that goes wrong, and humans make them daily – but in the hands of a medical practitioner, they can be life-threatening.
Types of Errors
Major surgical errors are called “never events” because they should never happen. Common types include:
- Operating on the wrong patient
- Performing surgery on the wrong site or wrong side of the body
- Performing the wrong procedure
- Implanting the wrong appliance
- Leaving an object in the patient
These errors should never take place, but according to a study by the Mayo Clinic, never events occurred in 1 out of every 22,000 procedures – though other studies suggest the rate may be as high as 1 in every 12,000 procedures. Additionally, the Mayo research showed that two-thirds of these errors occurred during the course of relatively minor procedures, like anesthetic blocks and endoscopies. Other common mistakes include causing nerve damage and administering too much or too little anesthesia.
Types of Human Error
In a recent study of 9,830 surgical procedures performed over the course of a year, human error resulted in 260 major complications. Several issues can cause human error during surgery, including:
- Poor judgment. A number of factors can contribute to this issue. Poor communication between the surgeon and surgical team, stress, and fatigue are all major contributors. In addition, surgeons who use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress often exhibit poor judgment. Confirmation bias is another lapse in common sense that can lead to error. This is when surgeons convince themselves that they saw what they expected to see as opposed to what was actually there.
- Inattention to detail. Surgeons who take shortcuts or neglect proper protocols, such as sterilization practices, can make egregious mistakes. Overconfidence and poor handoffs can also lead to problems. Errors in technique also fall under this category, whether caused by doing the wrong thing or doing the right thing incorrectly.
- Incomplete understanding. Insufficient planning and preparation, including plans to deal with potential complications, can lead to errors and the inability to cope with problems on the fly. Constant communication with surgical staff is essential for a full understanding of the procedure. Anything less may lead to a completely preventable oversight or potentially fatal assumption.
Safe surgical practices don’t start and end with the surgeon; a combination of factors has to be present for an error to surface. A vigilant surgical team and constant communication are essential to preventing mistakes. If the surgical staff identifies a potential problem, team members must be confident about speaking up to prevent it. In addition, continuous professional development should be available to staff members outside their normal practices.
Technology must also be up-to-date and accurate. Incident reporting systems and adverse events disclosure should be encouraged; health care professionals should never think they should hide a fault. Lastly, the surgeon’s environment should be supportive, and the organizational culture should fill the needs of doctors and patients. Poor supervision, insufficient staffing, and planning problems are all organizational oversight factors that need to be addressed if errors are to be minimized.
Surgical complications will always be a risk as long as humans are involved. At Tiano O’Dell PLLC, we know these mistakes and medical practice are an unfortunate reality, but we can help. Tell a West Virginia medical malpractice lawyer about your situation, and we will ensure you understand your options. Call our office at (304) 720-6700 or contact us online today.