Common Surgical Errors and Their Causes

Patients who undergo a surgical procedure are generally aware complications can occur during or after the procedure. But, a patient also has the right to expect that complications will not be the result of a surgeon or surgical staff’s failure to operate with proper care. Unfortunately, surgical errors occur too often and can take many forms.

Common Surgical Errors

Examples of surgical errors include:

  • Procedures on the wrong body part. A fundamental assumption any patient would make before a surgical procedure is that the surgeon knows what part of the patient’s body she is supposed to operate on. But, a common surgical error is operating on the wrong body part. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as: the site to be operated on was noted wrong on the patient’s chart; the wrong body part was marked (or, no marks were made) for surgery; or the surgeon failed to take time to confirm she was operating on the correct site before beginning the procedure. This type of error is particularly disturbing in cases of amputation or removal of a body part, though having a less traumatic, but unnecessary, procedure performed on a healthy body part can also have lifelong health consequences. Procedures on the wrong body part are considered “never events,” meaning they should never occur when the proper standard of care is shown.
  • Procedures on the wrong patient. Surgical errors can occur when patients in a hospital or surgical center have similar (or, the same) name, or if a patient chart is placed with the wrong patient. Failure by the staff or the doctor to confirm the correct procedure is being performed on the correct patient, by not only confirming the patient’s name, but also the date of birth and other unique identifiers, can lead to injury. Like procedures on the wrong body part, procedures on the wrong patient are considered never events.
  • Wrong procedure. When surgical teams fail to confirm with the patient (and each other) the type of procedure to be performed and the plan of how the procedure will be performed, errors can occur. Wrong procedures are also never events.
  • Wrong equipment. Injury can occur when a surgeon fails to use the proper equipment for the procedure. Using the wrong equipment can lead to unnecessary damage and subject a patient to more procedures to correct the damage, if the damage can even be repaired.
  • Unnecessary nerve, tissue, or vascular damage. Although damage to nerves, tissue, or vascular structures of the body may be a recognized risk of some procedures, that does not mean that a doctor is excused from doing the procedures carefully. All doctors have to follow the standard of care for the procedure they are performing. If they make a mistake and a patient is injured, the patient may be entitled to recover damages.  
  • Contamination caused by unsterilized equipment or surgical staff. Unsterilized medical equipment can result in unexpected and unnecessary infections. So, too, can a failure by the doctor or staff to properly wash their hands before a procedure.
  • Foreign objects left inside of the patient. If surgical teams do not exercise care when accounting for instruments used during an operation, items such as sponges or clamps can be left inside of a patient. Such objects can cause infections and other complications, sometimes years after the procedure.

Any of these types of surgical errors can be the result of the surgeons or a member of their surgical team acting negligently. If this type of event has happened to you or a family member, it is important to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible because strict time limits govern the filing of claims.

Common Causes of Surgical Error

Though many surgical errors are preventable, they still occur far too often. Some common reasons for these errors include:

  • Failure to plan. Before a procedure begins, a doctor needs to have a plan both for performing the procedure and handling any common complications that might arise during the procedure. A failure to plan can lead to surgical errors.
  • Failure to communicate. Communication by the surgical and patient care teams is critical to insuring patient’s safety. Failure to communicate leads to errors such as operating on the wrong body part or the wrong patient.
  • Incompetence to handle procedure. To protect their patients, doctors who lack the knowledge or skills to perform a certain procedure have a duty to not perform the procedure. When a doctor performs a procedure that she is unfamiliar with, she unnecessarily exposes her patient to preventable injury.
  • Fatigue. Doctors and hospital staff notoriously work long hours, which often leads to fatigue. Unfortunately, a doctor performing a procedure while fatigued places a patient at the same risk as if the doctor was intoxicated. Fatigue compromises both motor skills and brain function, which, clearly, places a patient at great risk on the operating table.
  • Substance abuse. Doctors are not immune to substance abuse problems. A doctor operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, just like operating when fatigued, risks preventable injury to the patient.

If you or a loved one have suffered unnecessary or unexpected complications after a surgical procedure, it is crucial that you have your situation evaluated by an experienced professional as soon as possible to protect your rights. The experienced staff at The Champion firm is here to help you.