Study uncovers drug errors in almost half of surgeries at top hospital

Research suggests that potentially harmful surgical drug errors are more common than previously thought and occur during up to half of all procedures.

Many surgical patients in Seattle expect their surgeons and support staff to pay careful attention to detail and avoid unnecessary mistakes during these complex, potentially dangerous procedures. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that one dangerous type of error is not uncommon during surgery. A study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital and published in the journal Anesthesiology in 2015 suggests errors with medication may occur during about half of all surgical procedures.

Alarming findings

These findings were based on the outcomes of 277 surgeries that researchers directly monitored, according to Bloomberg. The overall rate of mistakes and adverse drug reactions that the researchers observed was higher than the rate noted in previous studies, which relied on medical professionals to report their own errors. The study yielded the following findings about medication errors during surgery:

• On average, a mistake occurred roughly one out of 20 times that a patient received a medication. Since many procedures demanded multiple drug administrations, researchers saw errors in about one out of two procedures.

• About four out of five of these incidents were classified as preventable. The others involved issues such as unknown drug allergies that medical professionals could not possibly have addressed.

• Adverse events and mistakes were more common during longer procedures. When a surgery lasted more than six hours, the risk of these outcomes became significantly more likely.

It's important to note that not every observed incident was a critical error, such as a surgical anesthesia error. Missteps such as the mislabeling of medications or the improper recording of drug administrations were also counted as errors. Still, patients suffered injuries as a result of over one out of three of the observed errors, according to The Washington Post. Furthermore, three of the mistakes had the potential to cause fatal complications.

These findings are even more worrisome in light of Massachusetts General Hospital's track record in protecting patient safety. The hospital is considered a leader in this area, and consequently, one of the study's authors predicts that these error rates are at least as high at other hospitals.

Pursuing recourse

When a medication error or other harmful surgical error should not reasonably have occurred, victims may have legal recourse. If a medical professional fails to provide a professional standard of care, victims may have grounds for seeking recompense through a medical malpractice lawsuit. Under Washington law, people who prove that a medical professional was negligent may be able to recover damages to address their financial costs and non-economic losses.

Proving a doctor failed to provide a professional standard of care may be challenging for people who have suffered harm from medication errors. Frequently, victims may need to support their cases with the testimony of an expert witness. For assistance meeting this requirement and completing the claim process, victims may benefit from consulting with an attorney with experience in this area of law.