High Rate of Preventable Drug Errors Made During Surgery

Some types of serious surgical errors are self-evident.  Wrong site surgery – operating on the wrong part of a patient’s body – or even wrong patient surgery – operating on the wrong patient – are two examples.  There’s no mistaking what went wrong.

However, preventable errors involving the administering of medicines during surgical procedures can be just as serious and alarmingly common, just not as obvious.

A 2016 study directed by an assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School focused on this type of surgical error.  Her research team witnessed nearly 300 surgeries in a 1,000-bed hospital over eight months to detect and document anesthesia errors.

The observation period was from the time a health care provider (anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetist, or resident physician) saw the surgical patient in pre-op through the time the patient was wheeled into the recovery room.

Mistakes Made in 5 Percent of All Surgical Drug Administrations

The team found that 124 of the 277 surgical procedures they witnessed included at least one medication mistake.  Measured another way, one out of every 20 medication administrations involved in these operations had a documented error – defined by a mistake in giving or ordering the drug as well as a patient’s bad reaction to the medication.

The study’s author notes that nearly 80 percent of all the medication errors during the surgical procedures – including pre-op and post-op – were preventable.  Sixty nine percent of the drug errors were considered serious, and about 2 percent were life-threatening.

In a speech the author made in 2017 about the study, she explained that the fast pace of the operating room can lead to a higher rate of serious drug errors than in other hospital areas.  While medicines for in-room hospital patients typically are checked several times before administering, operating conditions may not allow this extra safety measure, and surgical teams should take this into account.

She also theorized that previous studies of similar surgical errors using self-reporting rather than this type of outside observation most likely underreported the actual number of mistakes.  So they may occur more often than previously thought.

Common Medication Mistakes Made During Surgery

The researchers classified the most common types of medication errors they found during surgery:

·         Drug labeling errors – 24 percent of all medication errors

·         Wrong dosage – 23 percent of all medication errors

·         Failure to treat a medication-related problem – 18 percent of all medication errors

·         Documentation mistakes – 17 percent of all medication errors

As the types of serious drug errors during surgical procedures were identified, the study provided solutions to avoid them, including barcoded-documentation and other technology and process-based preventive steps.

No surgery is ever routine.  There is always some level of risk involved.  But steps to reduce those risks and prevent dangerous surgical mistakes should routinely be followed by healthcare providers.

If you lost a loved one or if you were seriously injured by what you believe was a preventable mistake during surgery, contact a medical malpractice attorney to review your case.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Articles September 1, 2017