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Surgical Medication Errors and Medical Malpractice

Casey Woodruff

medicationIf you are admitted into a Naperville hospital for a routine surgery, should you worry about the risks of a deadly medication error? According to a recent article in Bloomberg Magazine, it looks as though surgery simply is not as safe as most Illinoisans would like to believe. Indeed, the article cited a new study that determined “about half of all surgeries involve some kind of medication error or unintended drug side effects.” While not all patients who become victims of medical mistakes will experience severe or life-threatening consequences, the risks are very real. 

Self-Reported Data from Clinicians Shows Alarming Rate of Medical Mistakes 

A number of studies have been conducted in recent years that seek to determine the statistical risks of medication errors during surgery. While the term “surgical errors” can refer to many different actions that could amount to medical malpractice, the recent study looked specifically at medication errors that occurred during or after surgery, made largely by anesthesiologists.  It collected data in a manner that is not always common among similar studies: the researchers “relied mostly on self-reported data from clinicians, rather than directly watching operations.” What did the researchers find? Out of 277 surgical procedures, about 1 in 2 resulted in some kind of medication error. As we mentioned, not all medication errors result in serious harms to the patient. At the same time, however, patients should not have to anticipate a nearly 50 percent chance of having a mistake made during a surgical procedure. And the study determined that about one-third of all the medication mistakes made during surgery did result in some kind of patient harm, although the severity of the injuries varied among patients. The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Anesthesiology, described the error rate as “startlingly high.” In analyzing the rates of medication errors during surgical procedures, the researchers determined that although there is simply a high likelihood of medication-related harm anytime someone goes under anesthesia, many of the mistakes reported were preventable. Indeed, the study emphasized that there are “a number of opportunities to improve safety.” 

Anesthesiology Drugs and Patient Risks 

Given that numerous studies have reported on the extremely high rate of medical mistakes and death in the U.S., it seems surprising that Americans are just now learning that they are at a particularly high risk of harm when they go into the hospital for a surgical procedure.  According to Dr. Karen Nanji, an anesthesiologist who authored the recent study, the lack of information about medication mistakes and surgery actually is not all that surprising.  She explained that “the intersection of medication and surgery have really not been studied in any systematic way.” Anesthesiology drugs do not “have the same safeguards that other medication orders do,” and unlike other prescribed drugs at hospitals, they are not necessarily “double-checked by pharmacists and nurses before they read the patient.” As Nanji explained, having other healthcare professionals double-check prescription orders can take hours, and surgeons and anesthesiologists in operating rooms typically cannot let that much time pass without impacting the patient’s health and safety. If you or a loved one suffered an injury because of a medication error, you should talk with an aggressive Naperville medical malpractice lawyer about your case. Contact Woodruff Johnson & Evans today.  

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