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10-year study reveals most common causes of surgical medical malpractice

Surgery tops the list of all medical malpractice claims

Coverys recently published its findings from a study of over 20,000 closed medical malpractice claims for a 10-year period ending in 2019. Some of the information provide insights about areas of medicine that have high rates of medical negligence claims.

Surgery and procedure-related claims represent the category of most frequent claims. The study found that several factors continue to plague operating room (OR) quality, including:

• Retained foreign objects. Although these are considered “never events,” in the past few years, we’ve handled multiple cases involving sponges being mistakenly left inside patients after surgery. This year alone, we’ve represented two clients in medical malpractice claims where a surgeon and operating room staff have accidentally left surgical towels in patient abdomens after surgery.

• Performing surgery on the wrong patient or body part. It’s hard to believe these mistakes happen, but they do when surgeons and OR personnel get into big of a rush. We represented a patient at a skilled nursing facility who had a hearing impairment. A surgeon had been consulted to do a painful debridement procedure on an abdominal wound for a patient with the same last name. The surgeon instructed the nursing staff to get the wrong patient from her room.

That type of mistake could have been easily avoided if the surgeon, anesthesia providers, and OR nurses had followed what’s called the universal protocol or surgical timeout. This involves having all the key players for the surgery or procedure pause before the procedure begins to make sure that they have the right patient on the OR table and agree on the right site for the surgery.

• Poor team performance. This factor ties into the universal protocol/surgical timeout rule, but extends beyond further. Anesthesia providers are required to make an independent call on whether it’s safe for patients proceed with surgery under general anesthesia. We’ve seen situations involving busy outpatient surgical centers where a surgeon pressures an anesthesiologist or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) to move forward on a case that they feel is unsafe.

Similarly, there can be a breakdown of respect and communication among the different fields that should be working together seamlessly in an OR to ensure patient safety. Anesthesia providers, surgeons, nurses, and techs are all vital part of the OR team.

• Surgeon or staff fatigue from performing too many elective procedures can be a significant factor in care-related mistakes.

• Technical mistakes during surgery. This simply means that the surgeon made a technical error in the way the surgery itself was performed.

The Coverys study identified the five most frequent surgical types of claims as general surgery, orthopedic surgery, neurological surgery, dental surgery, and obstetrical surgery (birth and baby related cases).

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor surgical care in Texas, then contact a top-rated attorney with significantly experience in the complex field of medical malpractice.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.

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