Anesthesia Errors

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The COVID-19 pandemic caused many disruptions.  One disruption was the cancelling of surgical procedures. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, almost a quarter of all surgical patients cancelled or had their operations cancelled within the last year.

About 16% of those patients have said they will reschedule at some point.  The organization reports that only 10% will not reschedule.

That may mean an increased demand on surgical teams going forward. One red flag related to surgical staff schedules was raised by the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN).  AORN recently observed National Time Out Day, which focused on the need for surgical teams to conduct a time out before every procedure to help reduce serious surgical errors, such as wrong-site surgery.

AORN indicated that surgical time outs are imperative now more than ever, as there is an increase in procedures following the COVID-19 lull, placing heavier work demands on surgical staff.

Wrong Dosage Anesthesia Mistakes

A new study by a University of Michigan researcher reveals that increased demands on anesthesiologists increase the chances for anesthesia errors.

A mistake by an anesthesiologist can be very serious.  The wrong type or dosage of anesthesia can result in a catastrophic brain injury or damage to the patient’s other organs. According to Elcam Medical, a company that makes intravenous medical devices, drug dosage errors are one of several common anesthesiology errors.  The other common mistakes made by anesthesiologists include:

  • Unintentional administration of residual anesthetics
  • Ineffective pain management following a procedure
  • Improper regulation of intravenous fluids

The University of Michigan study was published in July by JAMA Surgery (“Association of Anesthesiologist Staffing Ratio with Surgical Patient and Mortality”). Researchers reviewed records of nearly 600,000 adult surgical patients who had procedures in 23 hospitals between 2010 and 2017, which was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study described the potential for deadly errors from overworked anesthesiologists. Anesthesiologists were found to be involved in as many as four operations simultaneously.

Researchers compared the workloads of anesthesiologists and patient outcomes.  They compared the surgical outcomes of:

  • Patients receiving care from an anesthesiologist covering one operation
  • Patients receiving care from an anesthesiologist covering two operations
  • Patients receiving care from an anesthesiologist covering two to three operations
  • Patients receiving care from an anesthesiologist covering four operations

Patient Deaths when Anesthesiologists Have Overlapping Surgeries

Anesthesiologists may be involved in more than one surgery at once, and new evidence shows those who are, put their patients at considerable risk for serious harm.

The study determined that the rate of serious patient harm increased with each overlapping operation an anesthesiologist was involved in. The patient harm, counted within 30 days following the procedure, included the patient’s death and these six serious complications involving:

  • Cardiac
  • Respiratory
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Urinary
  • Bleeding
  • Infections

The study concluded that hospitals should factor in these potential complications and patient injuries when scheduling surgical team workloads.

Any surgical procedure, especially requiring general anesthesia, is risky. Hospitals and their surgical teams have the duty to minimize those risks, including having safe, responsible staffing levels for each procedure.

If you believe you or a family member was the victim of a catastrophic mistake during surgery, or some other preventable medical error, speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

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

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham.  Posted in Articles August 4, 2020.

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