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The Frequency of Surgical Errors

When someone has a life event that requires them to undergo surgery the last thing that they expect is to be hurt by their doctor.  Optimistically referred to in the medical community as “never events” (because they should never occur), surgical errors unfortunately occur with unacceptable frequency in our country.

The frequency of surgical errors in the United States varies significantly depending on the source of the information: the current authoritative study, Surgical never events in the United States, published in the medical journal Surgery, quotes a figure of about 1,000 occurrences a year.  Their data, however, is likely low because these figures were derived from medical malpractice claims; since many if not most incidents are resolved without a claim being filed, this method of collection is going to be significantly lower than actual occurrences.  Other sources using different reporting methods claim a number greater than 4,000; however, this number does not reflect unreported cases, and since many cases involve issues that remain undetected, this amount is likely suspect as well.

The Most Common Errors

Surgical errors can cover a wide variety of different issues that have occurred to patients while receiving medical treatment, but a very small number of errors make up the vast majority of reported problems, including:

  • Leaving a piece of surgical equipment inside of a patient after closure;
  • Operating on the wrong side of a patient;
  • Placing an incision in an incorrect location;
  • Performing the wrong procedure, or operating on the wrong patient;
  • Injuring a nerve during a procedure; and
  • Administering incorrect medication, typically anesthesia errors.

All of these issues are not risks related to the actual procedure—a patient’s informed consent waivers do not cover these matters, regardless of what hospital administrators may attempt to convince you.  (A patient might do well to consider how many of them could also be avoided with a permanent marker.)

Causes

While there is debate about the number of times surgical errors occur, one thing that the studies agree on is that the root cause usually stems from poor communication of one sort or another.  This can lead to anything from improper medication dosing, to not having the correct equipment on hand, to medical staff marking the wrong surgical site during pre-operative procedures.

Additionally, personal issues on the part of a surgeon can result in mistakes being made as well: being fatigued from working long hours, rushing or taking shortcuts, and even drug or alcohol problems have all resulted in patients being injured during medical procedures.

Surgeons’ Statistics

The surgeons most likely to have surgical errors statistically aren’t who you may expect.  They tend to be between the ages of 40 and 49 (as are the patients most likely to be injured), and in the middle of their careers—not surgeons new to the practice of medicine, nor ones nearing retirement.  Less surprising, however, is that around two thirds of surgeons involved in a surgical mistake have been involved in multiple events.

Miami Medical Mistake Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been injured during a surgical procedure, contact an attorney at the office of Alan Goldfarb, P.A. online or by telephone at 305-371-3111 today. Our Miami lawyers will discuss your situation with you and determine the best way to proceed with your potential lawsuit.

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