Medication Errors During Surgery Are More Common Than You May Think
Having surgery can be a nerve-racking experience for even the calmest of patients; after all, during surgery you’re putting your care, your health and even your life in someone else’s hands, and having a doctor and surgical team you can trust is essential for calming the fears and anxieties that often go hand-in-hand with surgical procedures.
The good news is, there are many skilled, competent doctors with plenty of experience in performing successful surgeries; the bad news is, medical errors still occur – and sometimes at an alarming rate. In fact, a recent study from Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts General Hospital focused on a specific type of surgical error – errors in the use of medications before, during and immediately after surgery (called the perioperative period) – and found nearly half of the 277 surgeries observed during the study had at least one medication error or adverse drug event during the perioperative period. Even more startling: The study found most of these problems – about 80 percent – were preventable.
Although the Massachusetts General study is the first to look specifically at the incidence of perioperative medication errors and adverse drug events, medical errors in general are nothing new; in fact, several studies have revealed just how common – and deadly – they can be. Medical errors are so common, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should list medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. In an open letter to the CDC published this past May, the researchers noted medical errors cause more than 250,000 deaths each year in the U.S., or “9.7 percent of all deaths in the nation,” and called on the agency to begin including medical errors in its annual statistics. Other studies have given much higher estimates – as high as 440,000 deaths per year due to medical errors. In the Massachusetts General study, about 66 percent of the errors studied were deemed “serious,” while about two percent were considered to be life-threatening.
And there’s something else alarming about the study from Massachusetts General study: As the original and largest teaching hospital associated with Harvard Medical School, it’s also one of the country’s best hospitals, with some of the strictest and most stringent safety protocols in the nation. If errors can happen even in a top-rated medical facility like Mass Gen, the researchers posited, there’s a pretty good chance they’re even more likely to occur in other hospitals as well – and at a much higher rate.
Why so many errors? The study’s researchers say part of the problem is the fast-paced environment of the operating room, where protocol may be relaxed to facilitate faster decision-making. Before, during and after surgery, patients may have multiple caregivers, which can increase the risk for potential errors. And while the study does not propose steps to end these errors, it does help draw attention to an issue the researchers say needs to be discussed more often and more openly.
Certainly, not all medical errors result in death, but many result in short-term and long-term injuries in addition to longer hospital stays, which in turn can expose patients to additional risks from disease and even more medication errors. Longer hospital stays and additional treatment for injuries sustained as a result of medical errors also result in additional medical costs, none of which should be borne by the patient. Yet, often, those costs are charged to – and paid by – patients simply because those patients aren’t aware of their rights.
If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a medical error, you need to begin working with an experienced personal injury attorney right away to ensure your rights are fully protected. As a leading personal injury lawyer in Louisiana, attorney Chris Roy can help. Call 800-259-9850 and schedule your free confidential consultation today.