Surgeons can quite literally hold their patients’ lives in their hands, so it makes sense that they are required to go through years of higher education and rigorous training before earning their medical degree. Sadly, in spite of all this training, surgery errors are still all too common.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine completed an analysis in 2012 that found surgeons across the country are responsible for an average of 4,044 “never events” every year. “Never events” refer to errors which could—and should—have been prevented, such as leaving a foreign object inside a patient.
There are situations when a doctor might not have been reasonably able to prevent a negative outcome or complication from a surgery. However, when the error clearly could have been prevented if it weren’t for a negligent surgeon, the injured patient and their family have every right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Here are a few examples of common surgery errors that could be considered medical malpractice.
Leaving a Foreign Object inside a Patient
The idea of a surgeon leaving a sponge, sharp object, or instrument inside a patient seems like such an obvious mistake that it’s hard to believe how frequently it happens—an average of 39 times a week, by Johns Hopkins’ estimate. This error most commonly occurs during surgeries involving the abdominal or thoracic cavity, although it can happen anywhere.
Surgeons are supposed to perform a count after completing a surgery to confirm that they know where all their operating equipment is, but discrepancies in the count or failure to complete the count at all can lead to a retained foreign object. As you can imagine, leaving a foreign object inside a patient can cause serious medical complications that cost an average of $62,631 per hospital stay.
Wrong Site Surgery
This is another surprisingly common error, occurring an average of 20 times per week. This error can happen for a number of reasons, but it is most commonly related to a failure in communication and poor preoperative planning. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) argues that this type of error could be eliminated if medical facilities across the country implemented a universal protocol that includes verification of the surgery site before the patient leaves the pre-operation room.
Wrong Procedure Surgery
Just like wrong site surgery, this error reportedly occurs an average of 20 times a week. And also like wrong site surgery, a breakdown in communication is one of the most common causes of this huge and often devastating error. Unfortunately, this type of error still sometimes occurs in hospitals that use the universal protocol advocated by the AAOS, often because the protocol was rushed or carried out incorrectly.
Cognitive Bias Error
This is a less well-known type of surgery error but one that’s been getting increasing attention in recent years. One particularly notable incidence of cognitive bias error occurred at Tufts Medical Center last year, when the hospital caused the wrongful death of a patient by injecting a dye into her spine that was labeled with a warning not to use it in the spine. The interesting thing about this case was that the operating surgeon checked the label on the dye and proceeded to inject it anyways.
Researchers believe that this was a cognitive bias error; because a nurse handed the surgeon the dye and allegedly told him it was the right one for the procedure, the surgeon saw what he anticipated he would see on the label—and not what it actually said. It is unclear how common this type of error is, but it’s an alarming one, considering it can lead to a surgeon using a potentially harmful substance or misunderstanding instructions even when a protocol is clearly laid out.
Seeking Justice after a Surgery Error
Surgery errors are frequently disabling or even fatal. If you’ve been injured or have lost a loved one due to a surgical “never event,” it’s understandable for you to be upset and baffled as to how medical professionals could make such a huge mistake. You most likely want to hold the negligent surgeon responsible for their actions—and the best way to do that may be to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Talk to a personal injury attorney who has experience with surgery error cases to learn what you can do to recover compensation and ensure that the doctor who performed surgery on you doesn’t harm anyone else.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphey. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”