Posted on 03/30/2021

5 Most Common Surgical Errors

5 Most Common Surgical Errors

Surgical errors and other medical mistakes can happen to anyone. A study by Johns Hopkins’ Medicine observed that 10% of all deaths in the United States were due to medical errors. Science Daily further found that doctors make more than 4,000 preventable surgical errors or other surgical mistakes every year. They refer to these surgical error occurrences as “never events” because they are considered cases that should never have happened, in any situation or under any circumstance. 

There’s no such thing as a “minor” surgery. All operations can be dangerous, even simple ones. But in certain situations, a patient is put at disproportionate risk of injury or even death because of negligence or other factors. These can include medical care providers making preventable mistakes or using defective medical devices during the surgical procedure. Surgical errors and other medical mistakes contribute to the $1.3 billion in malpractice compensation medical facilities and medical care providers pay every year.

What is a surgical error? 

By definition, surgical errors are unexpected mistakes that happen during your surgical procedure and exceed the ordinary, generally accepted risk of surgery. Surgical errors are actions or events that should never have occurred and could have been prevented by following proper surgical or medical protocols.

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What causes surgical errors?

No two surgical procedures are exactly alike; each surgery is unique. And while no two surgical errors are identical, there are often common underlying causes found in most cases, including the following: 

  • Surgical incompetence or lack of skill, whether because of negligence, reckless behavior, or not having experience performing this type of medical procedure previously
  • Inadequate preoperative preparation, including being ready for potential complications, failure to thoroughly sterilize equipment or surgery, or not having the necessary equipment available to perform the procedure 
  • Failure to follow required surgical steps or regular surgical procedures, i.e., taking a shortcut to save time
  • Communication errors that include marking the incorrect spot for the surgical site, failing to communicate medical allergies, or not understanding the full scope of the procedure
  • Surgical staff fatigue whether from lack of proper sleep due to increased workload or off-work activities
  • Substance use/abuse impacting judgment or physical execution of required tasks 
  • Negligence or recklessness during the surgical procedure, including not paying attention
  • Broken, damaged, or defective medical equipment that could have been replaced prior to surgery, or not having backup equipment or alternatives available.

5 most common surgical errors

Surgical errors can vary dramatically and can range from relatively manageable to permanent quality-of-life-altering injury, or loss of life. And while every patient’s experience is different, there are a number of surgical errors that occur on a continual basis. The five most common surgical errors are below.

1. Leaving a foreign object

Leaving a foreign object, such as a scalpel, surgical clamp, or gauze in a patient’s body leading to significant pain, discomfort, or infection. This can happen in a disorganized or otherwise chaotic operating room, where medical staff may not perform their job adequately. While this remains one of the most common surgical errors, it is also one of the most easily preventable by going through a simple “materials used” checklist following your surgery’s completion. The surgical error of leaving a foreign object in a patient often results in patients requiring additional surgery to remove the object.

2. Performing the wrong surgery 

Surgeons performing the wrong surgery on a patient. Patient mix-ups can find the wrong patient waiting to get the wrong surgery. This can happen because of administrative mistakes, communication blunders, or even scheduling errors and can be exceptionally dangerous. Patients receiving the wrong surgery can have healthy organs removed or experience dangerous complications from not getting the surgery they needed. 

3. Surgery in the wrong location

Surgeons can also complete the appropriate surgery but on the wrong side of a patient’s body. “Wrong site” surgeries can occur as the result of communication errors or negligence and can have a devastating impact on a patient’s quality of life. Patients have experienced healthy organs removed instead of the damaged organs or wrong limb amputation. 

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4. Unnecessary injury during surgery 

An incorrect procedure or failure to pay attention can cause surgical staff to puncture or damage otherwise healthy organs or body parts, leading to severe injuries and potential additional surgeries to repair the damage. Nerve injuries can also occur if the surgical staff is careless or fails to pay attention during a surgical procedure.

5. Wrong dose of anesthesia 

Too much anesthesia, or too little, can have harmful effects on a patient. Too much anesthesia can result in a lack of oxygen, brain damage, or even death. Whereas too little anesthesia can have a patient waking up during the surgical procedure and experience pain and long-lasting psychological trauma.

How Grover Lewis Johnson can help 

While nobody’s perfect, and anyone can make a mistake, if you’re a surgeon or other medical health care provider, that mistake can have severe, disastrous effects. We hold our medical care providers and facilities to a high standard because they hold our lives in their hands. Ensuring the elimination of surgical errors through common checklists, verifications, or other systems to catch mistakes before they happen can go a long way to reducing a majority of surgical errors patients experience. 

If you or a family member have experienced surgical errors, reach out to the medical malpractices specialists at Grover Lewis Johnson today. We’ve been helping families like yours for 25 years, and we are ready to put our quarter-of-a-century of success to work for you. 

We take the time to learn about you and what makes your situation unique. This helps us apply our comprehensive medical malpractice knowledge and experience to build a robust case on your behalf, using meticulous research and impartial recommendations. 

We are ready to help you determine whether you have a valid claim, and if you do, we’ll work with you to help you get the best possible results. Because we are contingency-based, you don’t pay unless you receive compensation for your case. 

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash