Firm-Wide blog

Surgical Errors Are More Common Than You Think

By Burg Simpson
October 16, 2017
4 min read

It is hard to believe that only heart disease and cancer kill more people in this country than medical mistakes. But it is true. Medical errors kill roughly 250,000 Americans annually. Despite that, only 28 states require hospitals to report these fatal errors, making it especially difficult to track these tragedies.

The cost of surgical errors, in particular, can be high. Surgical errors cost the health care system roughly $17 billion every year. They also kill nearly 7 percent of the patients – or about 100,000 people – annually, while permanently injuring about a third of them.

If you have been injured because of a medical provider’s mistake, you need to get help from a medical injury lawyer quickly.

Medical Mistakes
As incredible as it sounds, the most common surgical mistake is when a medical provider – whether it is the surgeon or an attending nurse – leaves something behind in the patient’s body. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that revealed that a foreign object gets left behind at least once in every 1,000 to 1,500 intra-abdominal surgeries. More often than not, that foreign object turns out to be a sponge. And each time this happens, it costs the hospital anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 per incident.

While leaving a foreign object behind during surgery is the frequent surgical slip-up, it is certainly not the only one. Other common surgical mistakes include performing the wrong procedure, operating on the wrong part of the body, and even performing surgery on the wrong person altogether. Each of these incidents can be horrifying in its own way.

One St. Louis woman, for example, went to the hospital to undergo a “left-sided craniotomy bypass” to address a series of mini-strokes she had suffered. Instead, the surgeon performed a “right-sided craniotomy surgical procedure,” that left her unable to speak and in need of constant care. It also left her still needing the procedure for which she went to the hospital for in the first place. These mistakes are unacceptable and amount to negligence.

How Can This Happen?
Stories like this are all too common; so much so that the Mayo Clinic conducted an extensive survey last year to try and track down the human causes of surgical mistakes. Researchers revealed four categories of behavior that led to medical errors:

  • Preconditions for action: This includes sloppy hand-offs, OR distractions, overconfident staff, stressed out and mentally exhausted personnel, and poor communication before, during, and after the procedure.
  • Unsafe actions, such as disregarding the rules or acting before thinking.
  • Oversight and supervisory deficiencies, such as poor supervision, staffing shortages, and planning problems.
  • Organizational influences, which could be symptomatic of a toxic culture or ineffective operational processes.

Of course, simple negligence often plays a role, especially since as many as 10 to 20 percent of medical diagnoses are substandard from the beginning, whether they are inaccurate or missed completely. The numbers also suggest that the surgeons who make these mistakes are not normally first-time offenders. Roughly two-thirds of surgeons who had committed a mistake during a procedure had already been implicated in multiple malpractice events. In fact, according to another NEJM study, roughly 1 percent of doctors were responsible for 32 percent of all malpractice claims over the last decade.

When your doctor tells you that you need surgery, you believe them. You have faith that they know what they are doing and that they have your best interest at heart. So when that trust is betrayed, whether it is the result of incompetence or chronic negligence, it can be painful – and expensive. The simplest mistake can leave you disabled or worse. If you have been injured because of a medical provider’s irresponsible behavior during surgery, call the Colorado medical lawsuit attorneys at Burg Simpson at 303-792-5595 or fill out our free case evaluation form now so we can go over your case with you.

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