Are you or a loved one the victim of a surgical mistake in Maryland? If you suspect that negligence during a medical procedure caused serious injury or death, it is important to understand that you are not alone. Surgical errors are more common than most people think.
Surgical Errors Medical Malpractice In Baltimore
There will always be certain risks involved in undergoing a medical procedure, especially with a surgical procedure where anesthesia is involved. Like with any medical procedure, there is the risk that an error can occur during surgery. With most surgical procedures, there will be a team of medical professionals involved, and there are many opportunities for a mistake to be made. However, not every mistake made during the course of a surgery will rise to the level of medical malpractice.
Was Informed Consent Obtained Before The Surgery?
Due to the fact that almost all medical procedures involve some level of risk, it is the responsibility of the medical professional involved to provide the patient with information relevant to the particular treatment they are about to undergo so that the patient can make an informed decision as to whether or not to proceed. This process is called 'Informed Consent.' It is crucial that a patient truly understands the risks inherent in a particular procedure before he or she consents to have the procedure performed. Often times, this will require much more than reading a brief description on paper; the medical team who will be performing the procedure will take the time to walk the patient through what will occur and what the patient can realistically expect as far as risk is concerned.
If you have undergone a surgical procedure, you will probably have signed an informed consent form. If there are adverse consequences following the procedure, it is quite possible that these may fall within the risks that are inherent to the procedure. A good example is if you have an appendectomy and experience problems with urination following the surgery, sometimes this will require the use of a tube to drain urine. This is not a complication that occurs with every surgery, but it is fairly common to the extent that a range of urinary tract problems are explicitly covered as a risk in most informed consent forms accompanying removal of the appendix.
When Is A Surgical Error Medical Malpractice In Maryland?
Not all complications following surgery fall within the definition of risks that can reasonably be expected due to the nature of the procedure. Some mistakes made during surgery can lead to complications that rise to the level of medical malpractice, while others do not. For a mistake to be termed medical malpractice in Maryland, the medical professional must have made an error that falls below a generally accepted standard of medical care and the error resulted in harm to the patient.
How is the "generally accepted standard of medical care" determined? Generally, this can be thought of as the level of care a reasonable, prudent medical professional with equivalent experience and training would have provided under similar circumstances. As an example, a surgeon operating in a hospital operating room would not be held to the same standard of care as a medic in the armed forces who is attempting to provide medical care on the battlefield, as these are clearly not similar circumstances.
In a surgical setting, errors that may rise to the level of medical malpractice can include, but are not limited to:
Fatigue: Due to the commonality of incredibly long shifts among surgeons, it is possible that fatigue can lead to decreased reflexes and abilities, resulting in mistakes
Neglect: This can occur at any stage in the surgical process, from the technicians required to sterilize instruments prior to the procedure, to the team performing work during the actual surgery itself
Incompetence: Especially when medical professionals are in the early stages of their careers, they may not have performed a procedure many times and simply do not have the proper knowledge to perform the operation competently
Some surgical mistakes that can result from the above-described causes can include, but are not limited to:
- Anesthesia Errors: Administering too high or too low of a level of anesthesia can lead to serious consequences, even death
- Object Inside Body: It may be difficult to imagine, but there are many documented cases of surgical instruments or equipment (including sponges) being left inside of a patient's body following a procedure
- Nerve Damage: It is possible that a nerve can be accidentally damaged or even severed during a procedure. This can lead to long-term or even permanent pain or loss of mobility
- Operating on the Wrong Body Part: Again, this may be difficult to imagine, but there have been cases where the medical team operated on an incorrect area (and even the incorrect patient)
INTERNAL DAMAGE DURING SURGERY
One form of surgical malpractice occurs when tissue surrounding the surgical site is negligently injured during the surgery. This includes:
- Damages to organs
- Damages to nerves
- Damages to ducts
- Damages to vessels
- Damages to bowels
Discovering Surgical Mistakes
Discovering a surgical mistake can sometimes occur immediately after the procedure, but sometimes this does not happen until a significant amount of time has passed. For example, a person may experience pain months or even years after a procedure and come to find out that the pain is due to an internal infection brought about by a surgical instrument left inside the body.
The best course of action to take if you even suspect that you or someone you love has been the victim of a surgical mistake is to seek proper medical care and the counsel of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Even if a significant amount of time has passed since the procedure, in most instances you are still able to bring a claim for damages. The medical malpractice statute of limitations in most jurisdictions gives the victim of malpractice a certain amount of time (usually a couple of years) after the incident or after the injury was discovered. These laws were drafted especially to address an incident like the one described above, where a victim does not realize the injury (or the source of the injury) until after a significant amount of time has passed.
SURGICAL “NEVER EVENTS” IN THE UNITED STATES
Surgical “never events” are just what they sound like: events that should never happen during surgery if doctors comply with the required standards of care. Still, over 4,000 “never events” happen during surgeries each year in the United States. Some of these errors are minor and can be fixed easily, while other errors can be devastating and deadly.
“Never events” are preventable surgical mistakes that are always the result of negligent conduct. When a “never event” occurs, patients may need additional surgeries and may require prolonged recovery as well as temporary or permanent disability assistance.
Never events can include:
- Operating on the wrong body part or wrong site
- Operating on the wrong patient
- Accidentally discharging a patient
- Leaving sponges and other medical equipment in patients after surgery
- Malfunctioning or contaminated hospital equipment that results in serious injury
- Medication errors
- Mistakes in administering anesthesia
- Patient falls
- Receiving care from unlicensed medical professionals
- Failing to follow up on lab tests and diagnostic studies
The Patient Safety Network (PSNet) has defined 29 “never events” that are grouped into six categories: surgical, product or device, patient protection, care management, environmental, radiologic, and criminal.
A study of “never events” that occurred in the United States between 1990 and 2010 found that "never events" resulted in temporary injury in 59% of patients, permanent injury in 33% of patients, and death in 7% of patients.
According to the PSNet, the top six "never events" reported to The Joint Commission (a non-profit that helps accredit hospitals) were:
- 13.5% Wrong-site surgery
- 12% Suicide
- 11% Op/post-op complication
- 8.3% Delay in treatment
- 8.2% Medication error
- 6.3% Patient fall
WHY DO “NEVER EVENTS” OCCUR?
"Never events" are always caused by negligent medical care, and they are always grounds for medical malpractice.
Mayo Clinic researchers used human factor analysis, a technique used to investigate military aviation accidents, to determine and group the types of behavior that lead to “never events”. The researchers grouped “never events” into four categories:
- “Preconditions for action,” such as poor hand-offs, distractions, overconfidence, stress, mental fatigue and inadequate communication. This category also includes channeled attention on a single issue, meaning, focusing so much on a tree that one cannot see the forest.
- Unsafe actions, such as bending or breaking rules or failing to understand procedures. This category includes perceptual errors such as confirmation bias, in which surgeons or others convince themselves they are seeing what they should be seeing.
- Oversight and supervisory factors: Inadequate supervision, staffing deficiencies and planning problems.
- Organizational influences: Problems with organizational culture or operational processes.
Simple setbacks like miscommunication and fatigue can result in major complications for patients.
COMPLICATIONS RESULTING FROM SURGICAL ERRORS
Not all complications during surgery are the result of medical negligence. Your doctor should discuss possible complications before you agree to surgery. Doctors can provide the highest level of care and still face complications. Malpractice occurs only when doctors act negligently and fail to meet the standard of care during patient care.
When patients suffer from negligent surgical errors, they may face:
- Additional surgeries
- Additional recovery time
- Lost wages
- Increased risk of infection
- Temporary or permanent disability
Sometimes, the effects of surgical errors will not be felt right away. Patients may experience numbness that seems routine after a surgery. But sometimes, it does not improve even after the recovery period. Sometimes patients may have a retained surgical sponge after surgery that can cause infection and organ damage. Sometimes, surgical instruments are left in the body.
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can review your case for instances of malpractice and can help you understand why and how the surgical error occurred. Doctors and medical professionals are required to keep a surgical log of everything that occurs during surgery. Malpractice attorneys will can navigate your medical records to assess the cause of your injury.
PREVENTING “NEVER EVENTS”
The World Health Organization offers a “Surgical Safety List” manual to help hospitals and medical professionals minimize avoidable complications and risks. It identifies steps medical professionals should take in three phases: before the administration of anesthesia (sign in), before the first incision (time out), and before the patient leaves the operating room (sign out). See the full checklist here.
The Joint Commission provides “time-out” procedures as part of their Universal Protocol that members of a surgical team should follow before going into surgery. These procedures include simple steps like marking the patient and surgery site, discussing which procedure will be done, and making sure all involved understand the patient's medical history. Time-out procedures aim to help eliminate wrong site, wrong surgery, wrong patient errors.
Still, according to one medical study, 12% doctors who caused “never events” were found liable for other subsequent “never events”.
MEDICAL EQUIPMENT TRACKING
Emerging technology can help doctors track medical equipment to eliminate the possibility of objects being left in the patient after surgery.
A 2007 study of surgical malpractice insurance claims found that 73% of malpractice cases involved experienced surgeons. Surgeons may use up to 600 medical sponges in a complex procedure, and it is the assisting nurses, not the surgeon, who are responsible for tracking each sponge. While this is a required part of the procedure, miscommunication in combination with the overwhelming amount of surgical equipment that needs to be tracked can lead to errors and objects being left behind.
According to a USA TODAY survey, only 15% of hospitals are currently equipped with medical equipment tracking technology.
RECOVERING COMPENSATION FOR SURGICAL ERRORS IN MARYLAND
The effects of a surgical mistake can be devastating. The process of healing can impose a significant financial burden on individuals and their families. The Gilman & Bedigian legal team is fully equipped to handle the complex steps involved in bringing a malpractice claim in the Baltimore area and throughout Maryland. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience and some of Maryland's highest medical malpractice verdicts, will focus on getting you the compensation you deserve, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.