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Surgical Errors

doctors performing surgeryAn alarming 4,000 surgical errors happen every year in America’s hospitals, according to published research in Surgery. Victims of surgical mistakes are advised to consult a New York medical malpractice lawyer to determine if there is sufficient cause and evidence to seek compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Every surgical procedure carries some degree of risk of complications and patients should be fully informed of these risks prior to surgery. Unfortunately, surgical negligence is a reality for New York patients and their physicians. An Institute of Medicine study estimated that all medical mistakes, including surgery and anesthesia errors, harm 44,000 to 98,000 patients annually. About 80 times each week, patients having surgery in the U.S. suffer injuries that are completely avoidable. This disturbing estimate is based on a review of medical liability settlements and judgments from 1990 to 2010 collected in the National Practitioner Data Bank. The findings were published in the December 2012 issue of Surgery.

Surgical negligence in hospitals

Given the medical system’s fee for service system, it should come as no surprise that hospitals may make more money causing surgical errors than preventing them. According to a study published in the April 2013 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, surgical mistakes result in longer hospital stays, additional care and 330 percent higher profit margins compared to a privately insured patient without complications. The study reviewed the records of 34,256 patients having surgery in 2010 at one of twelve Texas Health Resources hospitals. Patients with one or more complications provided the hospital with $49,400 in revenue, on average. Patients who had no complications brought in $18,900.Those privately insured had a $39,000 higher contribution margin (revenue minus variable costs) than those with no complications.

When surgical errors are attributed to negligence

A surgeon may be held liable for medical malpractice when his or her conduct falls below the accepted standard of care, compared to reasonably competent surgeons practicing the same area of surgery under similar circumstances.

Surgical errors may include:

  • Wrong-site surgery
  • Incorrect incisions
  • Leaving equipment inside a patient
  • Operating on the wrong patient
  • Damaging nerves, blood vessels and organs
  • Misuse of medical instruments
  • Infection or other post-op complications
  • Anesthesia errors

Surgeons and their attending staff should follow protocols before, during and after operations to minimize the chance of an error.

Despite these efforts, surgical negligence still occurs and can be a result of:

  • Insufficient preoperative planning: The team should have the patient’s complete medical history, including reactions to medications and evaluate the risks of surgery on the patient,
  • Poor communication: Surgery has many moving parts and the surgical team needs to be fully and accurately informed of what’s going on.  The identity of the patient and surgical site need to be confirmed. The surgeon needs to be aware of the material issues affecting the surgery.Surgical equipment must be accounted for after a procedure,
  • Fatigue or under the influence: Decisions or actions by surgeons suffering from fatigue or those who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol can lead to grave errors. A study published in 2012 estimated 15% of surgeons have alcohol abuse or dependency problems (compared to 9% of the general population) and these surgeons were 45% more likely to admit a major medical error in the previous three months,
  • Neglect: The use of defective equipment or the failure to properly sterilize equipment can lead to infections, septic shock, and other life-threatening conditions, and
  • Incompetence: Surgeons go through years of rigorous study and training and continuously learn about the latest medical developments.  However, just as there are incompetent engineers, teachers and architects, not all surgeons are competent either.

Protect yourself against surgical errors

There are steps you can take to try to minimize the chances of a surgical error.

  • Check out your doctor and hospital: Ask your doctor how many times he or she has done this procedure.  Ask if the doctor will be doing the actual surgery or just supervising someone else. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has detailed information about procedures performed at different hospitals you can review
  • Tell everyone who you are and why you’re having surgery: If you’re not asked, tell the nurses and doctors your name, your date of birth and what surgery you’re having
  • Make sure your surgeon initials the surgical site: The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons urges its members to sign their initials directly on the site before surgery
  • Confirm the surgery site with the surgeon right before the procedure: If you can speak to the surgeon in the operating room, confirm what surgery you’re having, where, and
  • Train someone to be your advocate: If you’re not capable of taking steps one through four, ask someone to be your advocate and take those steps for you

Legal recourse for injured victims in NY

Patients suffering injuries or complications caused by surgical errors may be entitled to compensation by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in New York. The attorneys at the Sanders Firm are available for a free consultation to help explain possible legal options. Statutes of limitation govern surgical negligence cases, so contact one of our personal injury lawyers today. Our offices are convenient to all New York boroughs including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island. The first case review is complimentary and there are no attorney fees unless we win or settle your claim. Contact The Sanders Firm toll-free at 1.800 FAIR PLAY (800.324.7752)

  1. CBS News, Surgical complications and errors bring in more money for hospitals, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/surgical-complications-and-errors-bring-in-more-money-for-hospitals/

  2. Amed news.com, Surgical errors: In ORs, “never events” occur 80 times a week, https://www.amednews.com/article/20130121/profession/130129976/2/

  3. CNN, Don't become the victim of a surgical error, https://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/07/17/ep.surgical.errors/index.html?_s=PM:HEALTH

  4. Reuters, Alcohol problems not uncommon among surgeons: study https://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/23/health-surgeons-alcohol-idUSL4E8DN0FP20120223

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