Dangers in the OR: Investigating the cause of surgical errors

Surgical errors are caused by a number of different factors and affect thousands of people in the U.S. each year.

Although people may be slightly anxious when entering the operating room for a procedure, most patients have confidence in the professionals that are performing the surgery. Skilled surgeons save the lives of thousands of people in Pennsylvania and across the country each year. Surprisingly, surgeons and operating room staff are also responsible for a significant number of serious injuries and deaths caused by surgical errors. A study published in the Journal of Patient Safety indicated that more than 440,000 people lose their lives every year and even more people suffer from serious injuries due to preventable medical errors. A number of these mistakes occur in the operating room.

Types of surgical errors

Preventable surgical errors stem from negligence, fatigue and lack of experience in the surgical field. According to American Medical News, operating room errors occur at least 80 times each week in the U.S., and many more go undiscovered or unreported. A third of these incidents cause permanent injuries to the patient. The most common surgical errors include, but are not limited to:

  • Surgical equipment being left behind inside a patient's operating site.
  • Spread of infection from cross contamination and improper aseptic technique
  • Operating on the wrong body part
  • Performing the wrong surgery on the wrong patient
  • Failure to administer the correct amount of anesthesia, causing the patient to "wake-up" but remain paralyzed throughout the procedure.

In order to prevent these OR hazards from occurring, surgeons are encouraged to meet with each patient before the procedure to verify his or her name and surgical site. The surgeon may mark the site while the patient is awake to avoid performing the procedure on the wrong body part. In some institutions, OR staff is required to take frequent breaks to account for the surgical equipment. Other facilities have implemented tracking systems with barcodes to find any surgical sponges that may have been left behind.

Retained surgical sponges

One of the most common mistakes that is made in the OR is leaving instruments or surgical sponges behind in an operating site. It took 4 years for one woman to find a surgical sponge that had been left inside her after a surgery that was performed to remove her uterus. By that time, the New York Times reported, the sponge had grown into the side of her stomach and bladder, causing severe infection. Not only did the woman have to have a part of her intestine removed, but she is no longer able to work and suffers from severe depression due to the incident.

Finding justice after a medical error occurs

Victims of medical malpractice may have to live with debilitating injuries because of a doctor's negligence. When you put your trust in a surgical professional, you should not be left with pain, suffering and additional medical expenses. You may want to partner with an attorney who is knowledgeable in handling medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania.