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Surgical errors | Surgical Mistakes: surgical scissors on a table.The Difference Between Surgical Mistakes and Complication

Surgical errors examples are possible even when under the care of the best, most experienced doctors. It is standard practice for a patient and a doctor to discuss any and all risks before surgery.

Usually, the patient or his or her guardian sign an informed consent document to confirm that they understand the risks associated with the surgical procedure. However, some issues fall outside of the scope of medical mistakes when they are caused by preventable surgical mistakes by medical staff.

When undergoing surgery there is always a risk of complications. An individual’s personal medical history and conditions, the medications they take, and how their body responds to the procedure can all influence the outcome.

While many (if not most) surgeries are common and safe, doctors cannot always predict how a patient will react to the procedure or the medications required to perform it. For example, a patient with no history of drug allergies may undergo surgery and have an allergic reaction to anesthesia medications.

These potential issues fall under the category of surgical complications and are not the fault of the doctor or his or her medical staff. Typically such risks are discussed before a procedure (except in some emergency situations, in which case it is understood that physicians are working in the interest of saving the patient’s life).

This process of confirming a patient’s understanding of the risks and making the decision to go forward with the procedure is called “informed consent”.

Surgical complications may include:

Anesthesia Reactions: Adverse or allergic reactions to anesthesia medications.

Blood Loss: Excessive bleeding during surgery can cause serious risks or even death. Blood transfusions may be required in such events.

Blood Clots: Clots which form as a result of the surgery or physical inactivity after surgery. Blood clots or “Deep Vein Thrombosis” can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs or brain and cause serious complications or even death.

Death: There is a risk of death with all surgeries, but more invasive or lengthy procedures typically carry the highest risk.

Difficulty Breathing: After surgeries requiring a ventilator, some patients may have difficulty breathing.

Infections: Infections and the complications that follow are a common risk of surgery.

Injury: During surgery, it is possible that body parts near the site of the surgery are damaged.

Numbness or Tingling: Surgical incisions can cause nerve damage. Hypersensitivity, numbness, or tingling around the surgical incision may follow as a result.

Paralysis: Loss of function (paralysis) in a limb or body part is a rare but possible complication, especially with spine or brain surgeries.

Prolonged Recovery: Sometimes due to complications or slow healing, recovery from surgery may take longer than expected.

Scarring: Scarring at the incision point is a common medical complication.

Swelling and Bruising: Surgical procedures can cause inflammation and bruise at the site of the surgery. This is a part of the body’s natural healing process.

Unexpected Results: Some patients respond differently to surgery than others. It is possible for surgery not to have the expected results or less effective results than hoped for. This may also be the case if there are complications during a procedure and the surgery cannot be completed.

Doctors are trained to take every precaution to prevent such complications. When doctors discuss the risks, properly evaluate the patient, and take all necessary precautions, complications do not fall under the category of medical negligence or malpractice.

In contrast, surgical mistakes are preventable errors. Medical negligence is defined as, “the failure to provide a standard level of care.” 

The example above would be considered negligence if the patient had a known allergy to the anesthesia medication and the physician administered it without reviewing the chart, resulting in an adverse reaction. In such cases, it is advisable for a patient to seek out an Oklahoma Personal Injury Attorney or Oklahoma Medical malpractice lawyer to represent him or her.

The Harvard Medical Practice Study reported that approximately 1 in 4 medical complications is due to negligence. It is estimated that over 4,000 preventable surgical mistakes occur every year [3]. Common surgical mistakes include:

Misdiagnosis: Giving a patient an incorrect diagnosis or failing to diagnose for a long period of time. This can result in missed opportunities for treatment and recovery. It may lead to unnecessary complications if a missed or delayed diagnosis causes a patient’s condition to worsen without treatment.

Childbirth Injuries: While most injuries or conditions that affect newborns are not caused by malpractice, negligence during prenatal care or childbirth may qualify.

Medical Errors: This is most common in the administration of prescription medication. It can include prescribing the wrong medication, prescribing the wrong dosage, or malfunctioning equipment administering too much or too little medication.

Anesthesia Errors: This may result from an anesthesiologist administering a drug without checking the patient’s medical history, not disclosing known risks of the anesthesia medication(s), not monitoring the patient correctly during the surgery, or administering the wrong dosages.

Some surgery-specific mistakes are “wrong-site, wrong-procedure, wrong-patient errors” (or WSPEs).

Wrong-Patient error (i.e. not verifying the patient’s identity and planned surgery before the operation).

Wrong-Site error (i.e. performing surgery on the left hand instead of the right hand).

Wrong-Procedure error (i.e. performing the wrong surgery).

Leaving foreign objects in the body (i.e. sponges, gauze, or clamps not removed before the incision is sutured shut) is another error that may occur during a surgical procedure.

These are considered medical mistakes or negligence because they are potentially life-threatening errors that can be easily avoided with a standard medical review and best practices.

Surgery always comes with risks, but with proper medical management and treatment, those risks can be minimized or even eliminated.

If you have been affected by a preventable surgical complication, contact your Oklahoma Personal Injury Attorney Clark & Associates to understand your patient rights and the options available to you to combat medical malpractice.