How Common are Medication Errors in Surgery?
Medication errors occur during surgery much more often than most of us would expect. A recent report from CBS News indicated that doctors make medication errors in nearly half of all surgeries. That number comes out of a new study on surgery-related drug errors that examined 277 different surgeries. According to Dr. Karen Nanji, one of the authors of the study and an assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, “This is the first large-scale look at medication errors in the time immediately before, during, and directly after surgery.”
What did the researchers determine about drug-error risks and surgery? They found that a medication mistake or other adverse drug event occurred in 124 out of the 277 surgeries studied. During surgery, most patients receive more than one drug. Thus, in the 277 surgeries analyzed, 3,675 medications were administered. Of those drugs given, 193 medication mistakes occurred. To put these numbers in another way, nearly 50% of all surgeries involved at least one medication error or adverse drug event. According to the researchers, nearly 80% of these mistakes were preventable. While Nanji did not find the results of the study surprising, she emphasized that “there is much room for improvement.”
Dr. David Katz, the director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, echoed Nanji’s conclusions about the study and emphasized that awareness of such medical mistakes is a first step in helping to prevent them from taking place. The study concluded that about two-thirds of the drug errors observed were “serious,” while only about 2% were categorized as being life-threatening. The remaining mistakes were defined as “significant.”
Why are so many drug errors happening during surgery? One of the issues could be timing. As Nanji and the other researchers explained, medications administered in the hospital setting typically go through “rigorous safety checks” before the patient actually takes the drug. In other words, before a medication reaches a patient, it is usually double-checked by multiple healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, nurses, and physicians. In surgery, however, “fast-moving events and changing circumstances can require quick decisions and immediate action.”
What can we do to prevent medication errors during surgery? Dr. Katz suggested a “multi-layered defense, involving careful humans backing one another up, and automatic systems backing up the humans.”
Facts and Figures for Surgical Mistakes
What are common medication errors during surgery? These mistakes can take a number of different forms, and the recent study identified the following:
- Drug labeling mistakes;
- Incorrect dosing;
- Drug documentation mistakes; and
- Failure to properly attend to changes in a patient’s vital signs.
Although medication mistakes occur frequently, they are not the adverse events most commonly studied when researchers take a close look at surgical errors. An article from WebMD indicated that the following typically are considered the most common errors or “never events” when it comes to medical malpractice and surgery:
- Leaving a foreign object inside a patient’s body (such as a towel or a sponge);
- Performing the wrong procedure; and
- Operating on the wrong part of the body.
Given the emphasis on the above three surgical mistakes, researchers note the fact that medication errors during surgery have not been studied to the same extent.
Seeking Advice from a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
If you or someone you love suffered a serious injury because of a medication error during surgery, are you entitled to seek financial compensation for your injury? In order to pursue a medical malpractice claim, one must prove that your medical provider was negligent in that he or she deviated from the normal standard of care. Medical malpractice cases are complex and are contingent upon the specifics of your situation. Therefore, it is best to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to determine your rights.