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New study: Medication mistakes occur in up to 50 percent of surgeries

A leading hospital in the U.S. found that incorrect dosage, labeling and other medication mistakes are prominent during surgery.

We all know that doctors are human and make mistakes. Likely, you have heard stories about patients having the wrong limb amputated, or having surgical sponges left inside of them after surgery.

But how likely is that to happen to you or a loved one? After all, surgeries occur routinely and many surgeries have some success. And surgical teams are highly trained professionals. Most people think of surgical errors as something that may, on occasion, happen to someone else.

You have a 50/50 chance of experiencing medication error during surgery

Unfortunately, surgical errors occur with regularity, especially errors involving medication. In October, at the Anesthesiology 2015 conference, researchers released data noting that half of all surgeries performed at a large general hospital in the Northeast involved a medical error.

In the study, researchers viewed and analyzed 277 surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital. They found that hospital staff and surgeons committed errors in 124 of them. The errors included:

  • Labeling a drug incorrectly
  • Giving the wrong dosage
  • Documenting the drug or dosage incorrectly
  • Failing to note changes in a patient’s vital signs

During the majority of surgeries, more than one medication is used. In the surgeries studied, patients received 3,675 medications during the 277 surgeries. The study did not reveal any specific harm suffered to patients because of the errors that occurred. The authors did note, however, that mistakes involving anesthesia were common.

While the results of one study, out of one hospital, are not necessarily conclusive, Massachusetts General Hospital is a leader in patient safety. Dr. Karen Nangi, the author of the study and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, noted that her findings that Mass General “has gone out of its way” to reduce medication errors during surgery. She concluded that medication errors during surgery are likely to be prominent across the country, and perhaps may be higher than the 50 percent found in her study.

Quick decisions increase risk of harm

Why are medication errors so frequent during surgery? The authors speculated that while hospitals and doctors can cut down on medical errors, including medication errors, by having safety checks in place, during surgeries those checklists and requirements are often relaxed. Emergency surgeries are particularly subject to medication errors. Surgeons and doctors must decide and act quickly during a stressful time, which increases the risk of error.

Did you suffer a medication error? Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney

It can be difficult to know if you experienced a surgical error during your procedure. The patient is often unaware of what is going on during surgery, and doctors and hospitals can be reluctant to tell patients about mistakes made during surgery.

Often, the best way to discover the exact nature of what went wrong with surgery is through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

At Rosenberg, Minc, falkoff & Wolff, LLP, our experienced medical malpractice attorneys can help you discover what happened during your surgery and protect your physical and financial health in the wake of a medical error.

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