Medication Errors During Surgery More Common Than You Think

A new study found that medication errors occur in about half of all surgeries, and a third of these errors result in harm to patients or other adverse events. Even more troubling is that this study was conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital, a national leader in safety and Harvard affiliate. Our medical malpractice attorneys detail this study and the devastating consequences of medication problems during surgery.

Researchers studied more than 275 surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) during which thousands of medications were administered. This is the first study to measure the rates of medication errors and side effects during the "perioperative period," which is the time immediately before, during, and immediately after a procedure.

As stated, MGH is one of the best hospitals in the country. If at least 50% of patients there experience a medication error during surgery, the rates at other hospitals must be at least as high and likely much higher. Among the team's findings include:

  1. Most frequently observed errors: labelling mistakes, incorrect dosages, documentation errors, failing to treat problems showing on patients' vital signs.
  2. Medication errors seen in 1 of every 2 procedures.
  3. 80% of these errors were determined to be preventable.
  4. Errors were more common during longer procedures (6 hours or longer).
  5. 33% of errors led to an adverse event.

Response from doctors and medical insiders is grim: a Forbes writer asked several clinicians what they thought of the study, and many told him they felt the actual number of errors was much higher. We already have the technology to significantly reduce medication errors and their consequences, but many hospitals do not employ these solutions due to lack of resources, time, incentive, and other factors.

Defensive Medicine Pays Off

This type of medical negligence is costing our country in health, safety, and massive sums of money. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America, and cost us about $765 billion per year.

Another study conducted by a Harvard affiliate found that doctors who spent more on their patients were less likely to be sued for malpractice. Doctors in general surgery and obstetrics and gynecology showed the greatest risk of being sued when they spent less on patient care.

Medical insiders stated that doctors should see this study as an incentive to provide quality, safe care rather than excessive or wasteful spending. Though this was one, very limited study, it does provide some insight into our extraordinarily complex and outdated healthcare industry. One possible reason malpractice claims decline as spending increases could be that patients relate more spending with thorough, comprehensive care. Patients may see spending as a reflection of how much time and investment doctors put in, and more spending may lead to more reassurance.

Further studies should look at the relationship between doctors' treatment patterns, the quality of their treatments and outcomes, and malpractice risks.

The medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have been working on behalf of injured patients and their families for 30 years. If you or someone you love was seriously harmed by medical negligence, contact our firm for a free consultation. Each state has its own rules regulating medical malpractice claims. We represent clients nationwide, and can help guide you through the legal process so you can focus on your health and wellbeing.

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