What is a Surgical Error?

by NPHM | August 3rd, 2020

Finding out you need surgery to treat an illness or injury is often a scary experience. Although surgery is safer in 2020 than it has ever been, there are still many risks associated with any procedure, whether they’re routine outpatient surgeries or more invasive surgeries that require prolonged stays in the hospital.

The outcome that no patient should have to experience is a complication or even death due to a surgical error, which can be defined as a preventable mistake during a surgical procedure. Unfortunately, that’s reality for many Americans every year. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that surgical errors occur at least 4,000 times annually in the U.S., putting many patients’ lives and well-being at risk.

Common Types of Surgical Errors

Surgery is a difficult, time-consuming, and delicate procedure that requires years of education and training, intense focus, and a team of supporting staff to complete properly. Surgeons and their teams must follow strict protocols and do everything “by the book” to give their patients the best chance of survival and recovery, and when they fail to do so, serious complications can occur.

Common examples of surgical errors include:

  • Wrong site operations—Some patients have the misfortune of having the wrong body parts operated on. For example, a patient who needs a knee replacement in their left leg may instead receive the implant in their right leg due to miscommunication or negligence. Another example may involve making an incision in the wrong location.
  • Anesthesia error—Anesthesia makes it possible for patients to have pain-free surgery, whether it’s local anesthesia or general anesthesia. But the amount that patients are administered must be carefully dosed and monitored. Too little and patients will feel pain or wake up, too much and they may suffer serious complications or even die.
  • Surgical equipment left inside patients—A typical surgery may involve the use of many pieces of equipment, including scalpels, forceps, scissors, sponges, gauze, and more. Surgeons may alternate between tools many times during a procedure, and it’s not uncommon for tools or equipment to fall into or be left inside patients’ bodies.
  • Excessive tissue damage and bleeding—By its nature, surgery involves trauma to the body. But surgeons are supposed to avoid major arteries and nerves. When surgeons operate carelessly or with unsteady hands, they can put patients’ health and lives at risk by causing nerve damage or uncontrolled bleeding.

Why Do Surgeons Make Preventable Mistakes?

Surgeons are human, and they can’t be perfect in every procedure they perform. However, they are expected to do everything in their power to protect their patients and give them the best possible chance of recovery.

When surgeons put their patients at unnecessary risk of complications or death, it may be due to:

  • Poor planning and communication—This can include failure to read patient charts, failure to consider pre-existing conditions, and failure to communicate with other healthcare providers caring for a patient.
  • Fatigue—Surgeons often work long hours, and they may be on call for certain procedures. When surgeons are sleep deprived or have performed too many procedures in a given time period, they may be less effective and more prone to mistakes.
  • Intoxication—Surgery requires intense focus and concentration. Anything that impairs this, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or certain prescription medications, can cause surgeons to make uncharacteristic and potentially fatal mistakes.

We Help Surgical Error Victims Get Compensation

At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, we believe that people who are harmed by negligent medical professionals deserve maximum compensation. That’s especially true for people who trusted surgeons to operate on them, only to suffer severe complications due to careless mistakes.

Our Ohio medical malpractice lawyers are here to help if you or someone you love was harmed by a negligent surgeon or hospital during surgery. Contact us today for a free consultation.