Surgical Errors: What Are They and How Do They Happen?

Surgeons have tough jobs. Not only do they have to know the human body like the backs of their own hands, they must also take into account an individual’s personal medical history and balance all of the information under time constraints and in high-pressure environments. Unfortunately, mistakes do happen in those settings.

Surgical errors are not risks or complications with a surgery. They are preventable mistakes that can have a lasting impact on a patient’s health. Some mistakes make up “never events” – things that should never happen during surgery. These mistakes are typically caused by some type of negligence. Here are some of the most common surgical errors and how they can happen:

  • A surgical implement gets left behind. There have been documented cases where scalpels, sponges, and other surgical instruments are sewn up inside a patient’s body. Some people do not have symptoms associated with the leftover material, but some may experience infection, pain, and internal bleeding as a result. Until x-rays and other procedures identify the source of the problem, overseeing physicians may never suspect that the symptoms could be the result of such a significant surgical error.
  • The wrong procedure is performed. Surgeons sometimes move from operating room (OR) to OR throughout the day or perform emergency surgeries on the fly. If someone’s chart is switched, or the surgeon gets the incorrect information, he or she may perform the wrong surgery on an individual. Only after a patient wakes up will he or she discover the surgery that occurred was not the one that was called for. Can you imagine waking up to find that something was unnecessarily removed or changed and that you still need to have a surgery to correct the original underlying problem?
  • The surgeon operates on the wrong site. Another surgical error happens when a surgeon operates on the wrong body part. For instance, if you need to have knee replacement surgery and a surgeon operates on your left knee instead of the right, you could face all of the recovery time associated with this serious operation and still have a bad knee to deal with later on. Failing to mark the site prior to the procedure can cause these types of errors.
  • Anesthesia error. Anesthetists are some of the highest paid non-physician health care professionals because the right dosage and medication are integral to the success of an operation. Some of the most common surgery nightmares are based on anesthesia fears. Too little could make a patient wake up during a procedure and too much could prevent a patient from waking up again. The wrong anesthesia could cause a myriad of complications during and after the surgery, which could have life-altering consequences for some.
  • Avoidable surgical injury. Some areas of the body, if severed or injured, will never regain full functionality after a procedure. Injuring a nerve during surgery could leave a patient with lingering neuropathy, a common cause of chronic pain. In some cases, the injury cannot be remedied, and the patient will have to live with the consequences of a surgeon’s mistake for the rest of his or her life.

Why These Mistakes Occur

Surgical errors can be caused by many other reasons. Sometimes more than one negligent behavior may be to blame. Some of the most common sources of error include:

  • Poor surgical planning
  • Poor communication or processes
  • Fatigue
  • Incompetence
  • Impairment due to drugs or alcohol
  • Carelessness

When you put your health and safety into the hands of a surgeon, you are trusting that he or she will use a high level of care in handling your operation. When these professionals fail to meet the standard duty of care owed to their patients, their surgical errors are considered acts of medical malpractice. To learn more about the legal actions available to you after experiencing a surgical mistake, contact a West Virginia personal injury attorney at Tiano O’Dell, PLLC.