Report: Half of Surgeries Involve Medication Error or Unintended Drug Effect

A new study of medication errors and adverse drug consequences during surgery at one of the country’s top hospitals has revealed a startling statistic: There was an issue in almost 50 percent of all surgeries. That included minor procedures to to serious open-heart operations. operation

The study, published in the medical journal Anesthesiology, was recently presented to the American Association of Anesthesiologists, where doctors indicated to the study authors that the problem isn’t isolated to this one renowned facility. In fact, it’s a major point of concern at hospitals and surgical centers throughout the country.

The error rate calculated by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital – 124 out of 277 – was far higher than previously reported. In these cases, one-third resulted in harm or injury to the patient. Three of those incidents were life-threatening. Two of those were caught by the staff in the operating room, while a third was caught by researchers. No one died as a result of these errors, but the message seems quite clear: They likely could and probably do in procedures across the country. There just isn’t a team of researchers standing by to watch.

Some of the more common mistakes included:

  • Improper dosages
  • Labeling errors
  • Failure to give appropriate medications

As our Montgomery wrongful death attorneys know, these kinds of cases require a great deal of additional work because proving medical malpractice (as opposed to general negligence) usually requires the aid of expert witnesses. There must also be a detailed review of medical records by knowledgeable legal staff. In order to succeed in a wrongful death medical malpractice case in Alabama, it’s not enough to show the doctor, anesthesiologist or nurse made a decision that resulted in patient’s death. Rather, what must be proven is the health care provider failed to adhere to the generally accepted standard of care for his or her profession.

The lead author of the study indicated the results weren’t entirely unexpected. It was long believed the self-reported medication errors and adverse drug event rates were far too low. There just wasn’t a clear sense of true rates.

Although this study focused on surgeries conducted at a single hospital during 2013 and 2014, the lead author was confident in asserting medication errors at many other hospitals are “at least as high.” Part of the reason she knows this, she says, is that these kinds of errors aren’t unique to this specific hospital, and most involved medications that are used frequently in other hospitals across the country.

Some of the drugs most commonly associated with mistakes include:

  • Propofol (a sedative)
  • Fentanyl (painkiller)
  • Phenylephrine (blood pressure medication)

Part of the reason researchers believe the error rate may be so high is that the environment in the operating room is different from other types of hospital settings. In the operating room, there isn’t usually time for nurses and pharmacists to repeatedly check medications before they are given to patients. A lot is going on and it’s all happening very rapidly. If a patient requires a medication, it’s given within a minute or so.

On average, about 10 medications are given during an operation, depending on the procedure. Researchers concluded there was a mistake for about 1 in 20 drugs administered. That amounts to a problem in every other operation.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 1-866-942-9315 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:

At top U.S. hospital, almost 50 percent of surgeries have drug-related error, Oct. 28, 2015, By Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post

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Alabama Drugged Driving Bill Back on the Table, Oct. 28, 2015, Montgomery Wrongful Death Attorney Blog