Surgical procedures have evolved rapidly over the last 25 years. Many patients have benefited through the implementation of sophisticated technology; however, these advancements can also make surgery more complex. This can cause stressful situations where human error can happen.
A recent Columbia University study found that stressors in the operating room can cause surgeons to commit 66 percent more mistakes on patients. Short-term stress caused by loud noises or negative thoughts can leave surgeons prone to commit errors including torn tissue, burns or bleeding.
Surgical Mistakes Called “Never Events”
In a medical context, many surgical errors fall under the term never events. Never events are incidents that should not occur if proper safety procedures are followed. The National Quality Forum lists 27 never events including wrong site, wrong patient and retained surgical instrument (retention of a foreign object).
Wrong Site and Wrong Person Errors
Wrong site and wrong person errors are “never events” that take place when the surgeon operates on the wrong side of the body or even the wrong person.
According to a study published by the American Medical Association’s JAMA, a wrong site error occurs in nearly one in 100,000 surgeries. Researchers claim that poor communication among medical staff is to blame for many of these mistakes.
Retained Surgical Instruments
Researchers also found that in one out of every 10,000 surgeries, surgeons leave items like surgical instruments inside the patient’s body. This is referred to as retained surgical instrument (RSI) (also called gossypiboma or textiloma).
When compared with needles and tools, sponges are the most frequently retained item. Injuries and complications from retained surgical instruments can cause sickness or death. Retained surgical sponges or towels can rot, collect bacteria and pus, cause ulcerations and become life threatening. Scalpels left in the body can puncture organs and blood vessels which can cause internal bleeding.
Once diagnosed, treatment is usually a secondary surgery, even if the patient is showing no symptoms. This preventable medical error is usually caused by inaccurate instrument and sponge counts.
Cosmetic Surgery Errors
People choosing to have cosmetic, or plastic surgery, has increased substantially since 2000. Rocketing demand has resulted in more doctors offering and performing cosmetic surgery on their patients without board certification.
Complications from faulty surgeries can leave people disfigured or having to have corrective surgeries. This often leads to loss of income and employment, pain and emotional distress.
More common cosmetic surgery procedures include:
During a liposuction procedure, your doctor repeatedly suctions fat out of certain areas of your body where fat cells tend to accumulate such as your abdomen, buttocks and thighs. Liposuction injuries that can occur include puncturing a vital organ, infection, and blood clotting.
This is the most common type of cosmetic surgery in the United States. Breast augmentation surgery comes with risks including asymmetry, disfigurement, pain, and breast implant leakage or rupture.
Also known as a “tummy tuck,” abdominoplasty is a more invasive surgery to remove fatty tissue and tighten abdominal skin. Potential risks of this procedure include pain, swelling, infections, blood clots, bleeding, and loss of sensation to your abdominal skin.
Also called blepharoplasty, cosmetic eyelid surgery is used to lift and tighten your eyelids and reduce wrinkles. Possible complications that could warrant a medical malpractice claim include infections, nerve damage and dysfunction of the eyes or eye muscles.
It is important for medical experts to discuss the patient’s reasons behind requesting a cosmetic surgery to evaluate if the patient is a good surgical candidate. The physician should also explain the risks of surgery and any nonsurgical options that the patient may prefer. If the medical provider fails to detail vital aspects of the surgery, a medical malpractice incident may occur.
Thousands of times each year, surgeons perform surgeries that are later found to be unnecessary.
Unnecessary surgery malpractice can occur when a surgical procedure is recommended and performed but has no medical value. A surgery can also be deemed unnecessary when it was performed without consent or under false pretenses.
Some doctors have recommended surgeries to enrich themselves by defrauding insurance companies for operations that were not medically justified. Some examples of surgeries that are performed more often than needed:
- Angioplasty and pacemaker implants
- Spinal surgeries
- Knee replacements
- Cesarean sections
Surgical wound infections are the second most common form of adverse medical events in hospitals, but a diagnosis of a postoperative infection can be difficult.
Most patients experience swelling due to systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) associated with certain types of surgery. Differentiating between the SIRS response and an actual post-surgical infection can be complicated. It may help for a medical professional to take certain risk factors into account.
Some factors marking an increased risk of surgical site infections include:
- Height, weight, and overall pre-operative health
- Type of surgery
- Length of hospitalization
- Frequency of hospitalization
- Previous surgical procedures
- Dissimilar medical conditions
Post-surgical infections can develop any time between several days to several weeks after surgery. They are most likely to occur in places that accommodate additional bacteria, such as the intestines. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of surgical site infections are preventable.
Surgical Malpractice Causes Pain And Suffering
Given the inherently dangerous nature of surgical procedures coupled with the fact that doctors are human, surgical mistakes are bound to happen. They are not common, but if your doctor makes an error during your surgery it could cause damage that is extensive and often irreparable.