Surgical errors happen more often than hospitals care to admit. Risks are associated with any major procedure, but some issues should never happen in the first place.
It's estimated that around 4,000 preventable accidents occur each year with over $1.3 billion paid to patients in medical malpractice payouts. What is striking about those statistics is it represents those that are recorded. Researchers believe the number might be even higher.
Why aren't the accidents reported? Hospitals are only required to report on accidents that result in the patient receiving a settlement. Some patients don't know they have the right to take up a lawsuit against the hospital or doctor who has caused injury.
What is a surgical error?
Anyone who elects to participate in a surgical operation is subjecting themselves to an element of risk. Doctors and surgeons are highly-trained, skilled professionals. They have had enough education to qualify them to perform the procedure, but even the most advanced doctors can make mistakes. It's crucial that we understand the definition of a surgical error which is classified as a "preventable" mistake. There is a difference between giving consent for known risks and experiencing a preventable risk. Known risks are disclosed to the patient before the procedure. The patient must sign a form about "informed consent" saying they understand the risks involved with the surgery but elect to have it. A known risk might be something like a possible infection, excess bleeding, or blood clots and doesn’t often allow for a malpractice lawsuit.
What are preventable mistakes?
The consent form signed before surgery says a patient is willing to accept the dangers they might come with the operation and NOT the doctor's preventable surgical mistakes. Some examples of avoidable errors include:
- Performing an incision in the wrong place
- Leaving a piece of surgical equipment inside the body (it could be a sponge or actual tool used during the surgery)
- Operating on the wrong person
- Operating on the incorrect part of the body
- Not giving the patient enough anesthesia
- Injuring a nerve
Mistakes like this are called "never events" because according to research into malpractice lawsuits these events should never have happened. Out of the list we just mentioned the most common errors are leaving something inside the body, performing on the wrong patient, and operating on the wrong part of the body.
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How can surgical errors happen?
It's hard to imagine how surgical errors happen in the United States. As a country, we are known for having a reliable healthcare system. So, where do things go wrong? Even if two patients are having the same procedure, it doesn't mean the operation will be identical. So many factors like age, gender, and health play into success. While the doctors and medical team are poised to take on this responsibility, there are many reasons why issues occur.
Not Planning Properly Before Surgery
A healthcare team working in a busy hospital might see several patients each day. But, that doesn't mean they should get away with not planning adequately. Some nurses and doctors fail to review medical charts and information.
Some surgeons might try to take shortcuts to complete the procedure quickly. Not paying attention and speeding up the process increases the risk of mistakes.
Healthcare professionals work notoriously long hours. It's not uncommon for them to experience fatigue during a long shift. Without proper sleep, the doctor might not make the right judgment call.
A surgeon should always have the patient's best interest in mind. But, there have been reports where surgeons are not as careful as they should've been using outdated tools or not sterilizing correctly.
Being Under the Influence
Being a surgeon is a lot of stress. Some doctors might resort to consuming alcohol or taking drugs to cope and proceed to operate under these conditions.
Is a surgical error considered malpractice?
Let's first take a look at the definition of medical malpractice which is:
"An act or omission (failure to act) by a medical professional that deviates from the accepted medical standard of care."
Experiencing a surgical error doesn't immediately qualify you for a malpractice lawsuit. Getting a malpractice lawsuit means the sub-standard care you received by your treatment resulted in injury.
How do I know if I qualify for a malpractice lawsuit?
Doctors have a legal duty to their patients. Their care must align with the "medical standard of care." The medical standard says that a doctor or nurse must not deviate from the accepted norms. If they fail to meet these guidelines, it is considered negligence. Performing any of the previously mentioned medical mistakes automatically establishes an error happened. Knowing you have a case on your hands would require confirmation that you or a loved one were injured because of this mistake.
Filing a Malpractice Lawsuit
The first thing you need to do is collect all the medical records and documentation related to your procedure. Records like these are crucial to win your case. As a patient, you legally have the right to obtain information and files regarding your health. Next, you want to find an injury lawyer with experience in medical malpractice lawsuits. Lawsuits against healthcare teams are intricate, and you don't want to leave them to chance. Contact an experienced attorney like Bart Durham to review your information and confirm you have a case.