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Anesthesia errors are a dangerous form of medication error. Anesthetic drugs are strong, and the surgical rooms where they are often administered can be hectic. Anesthesiologists are frequently forced to multi-task during surgery. They may make a mistake by using the wrong concentration level of nitroglycerine. Medical professionals may also cause errors by administering too much or too little of the anesthetic medication.

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Types of Anesthesia

Local Anesthesia 

This is the safest form of anesthesia. It is used to numb a specific area of the body. The medication can be administered as a topical solution or an injection of anesthetic drug. Dentists and dermatologists frequently use local anesthesia to aid in minor surgical procedures.

Regional Anesthesia

This type of anesthesia is introduced to the body near a nerve or group of nerves. Usually, regional anesthesia is used to numb a large portion of the body. This is typically safer than general anesthesia, because the patient is still awake. Examples include epidurals for child birth or spinal anesthesia.

General Anesthesia 

This form carries the highest risks. The patient is completely sedated to prevent aspiration.If there is a problem, the patient cannot communicate with the doctor. An anesthesiologist must monitor the patient closely to ensure normal heart patterns and adequate oxygen supply.

Risk of Anesthesia Errors

Anesthetic drugs are toxic to the body and must be used carefully. Accidents that occur while administering anesthesia are the result of failed action, or inaction, on the health care provider’s part. Small mistakes can place the patient at risk of physical trauma, mental or emotional trauma, and death. During general anesthesia, to avoid potentially fatal complications, the anesthesiologist should remain at the head of the surgical bed.

If the anesthesiologist fails to closely monitor the patient, the following problems may cause injury:

  • Inadequate explanation of procedure requirements before, during, and after anesthesia
  • Poor communication in surgical room
  • Delayed anesthesia administration
  • Not enough anesthesia to keep patient sedated
  • Overdose of anesthesia
  • Failed or inadequate intubation
  • Extensive sedation time, that is longer than intended
  • Failure to identify or react to medication difficulties
  • Failure to properly administer oxygen
  • Equipment mistakes, such as turning off alarms or allowing concentrated oxygen near hot surgical devices

Anesthesia Complications

Approximately 82% of all anesthesia complications are a direct result of human error. If there is a mistake, the patient will be in danger of severe trauma. Due to the nature of anesthesia, this can range from physical to mental and emotional problems. Anesthesia is used for several reasons during surgery or uncomfortable procedures.

The purpose of general anesthesia involves:

  • Skeletal muscle relaxation
  • Immobility, or loss of movement and motor skills
  • Analgesia, or lack of response to pain
  • Amnesia, or loss of memory
  • Hypnosis, or lack of consciousness

A patient that has not received an adequate dosage of general anesthesia will experience severe emotional and mental trauma upon awakening. This is sometimes referred to as anesthesia awareness. Patients have reported an inability to move or communicate their awakened state with the surgeon even though the patient can feel the pain of the surgery. It is a rare, but dangerous circumstance.

Other side effects of improper anesthesia use include:

  • Asphyxiation
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Tracheal damage
  • Birth defects
  • Pulmonary aspiration of gastric contents
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac dysrhythmia
  • Myocardial infarction, or minor heart attack
  • Major heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Severe brain damage
  • Death

 

Sources:

G Hilditch, et al. “Critical Phase Distractions InAnaesthesia And The Sterile Cockpit Concept.” Anaesthesia 66.3 (2011): 175-179. MEDLINE with Full Text.Web. 19 June 2012.
Saravanakumar, K. “Bonica’s Management Of Pain, 4thEdn.” Anaesthesia 65.9 (2010): 967. Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition. Web. 19 June 2012.
“Verdicts & Settlements December 23, 2011: Doctor, mother of twins dispute delivery errors.” Michigan Lawyers Weekly 23 Dec. 2011. Academic OneFile.Web. 19 June 2012.