Nearly Half of all Surgical Errors Take Place Outside of the Operating Room

Surgical errors are fairly rare, and those that do occur are likely to happen outside of the operating room setting. As uncommon as surgical errors may be, some experts believe that almost every practicing surgeon has seen one. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine estimates that up to 4,000 surgical errors happen across the country each year.

The Risks of Surgery Outside of the Operating Room

No matter how minor, all surgeries have risks. Some surgical errors are not considered malpractice. For example, infections or complications due to unknown or untreated medical conditions can lead to complications that could not have been helped by a surgeon. If however, medical treatment falls below the medical standard of care, or has caused a patient harm, it could be considered medical malpractice.

When most think of surgery as taking place in a traditional operating room setting, this is not always the case. Surgical procedures can take place in a medical office setting, emergency room or ambulance.

Surgeries outside of the operating room are becoming increasingly more common. Advances in technology and the demand for convenience and shorter recovery times has led more and more doctors to make surgical procedures available in-office. Emergency situations also arise which require surgeries to take place quickly, sometimes outside of a hospital operating room.

As more surgeries take place outside of the operating room, more surgical errors are happening in doctor’s offices, radiology facilities, urgent care centers and emergency facilities. One study reviewed 342 cases of surgical error and found that 49.1 percent of cases happened outside of the operating room. Ophthalmologic procedures and interventional radiology accounted for the most reports. Communication was the root cause of most of the errors.

Many ophthalmological errors involve either cataract or LASIK surgery. Both are delicate surgeries that require great care to perform. When things go wrong, it can result in pain, loss of vision and even total blindness.

Interventional radiology is a form of surgical radiology that provides image-guided diagnosis of organ systems. Vascular injury is one of the most common errors in interventional radiology. Failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis can also occur with this sort of radiologic procedure.

Common Causes of Surgical Error

A surgical error is any mistake that could be prevented during a surgical procedure. Because there are risks associated with any medical procedure, doctors will generally inform patients of the possible complications and require them to sign release forms. Surgical errors are unexpected and go beyond the typical risks of surgery.

Some of the common reasons for surgical errors are lack of experience or training, insufficient planning, fatigue, drug or alcohol use, failure to follow proper work processes and lack of communication.

Some examples of surgical error are:

  • Anesthesia mistakes and administering too much or too little medication
  • Nerve injury due to surgery
  • Performing an incision in the wrong location
  • Leaving a piece of surgical equipment, like an instrument or sponge, inside of a patient
  • Operating on the wrong body part
  • Performing surgery on the wrong patient
  • Negligence, such as failure to sterilize equipment or using improper tools

When is it Malpractice?

In Illinois, the law considers medical malpractice to be an instance when a healthcare professional or facility breaches the standard of care while treating a patient, which results in their injury or death. The standard of care is the set of standards that any medical professional would employ when treating a patient under similar circumstances. If a patient is treated differently than someone of a similar age and health, with a similar condition, this could be considered a breach of the standard of care, and thus medical malpractice.

In Illinois, there is a statute of limitations and statute of repose for those filing a lawsuit against a medical professional. These laws are designed to keep patients from seeking damages after a certain period of time. Illinois malpractice law requires that patients file a lawsuit no more than two years following when they knew, or should have known about the injury. The law also states that a lawsuit may not be filed more than four years after the injury occurred. The exception is for patients who were minors at the time of surgery, who have 8 years to file a lawsuit, before their 22nd birthday.

Surgical errors can lead to additional medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. Monetary awards are meant to compensate patients who have received negligent care. Illinois does not currently set a maximum cap for damages for those injured during surgery, or any other type of medical malpractice. Medical malpractice lawyers can provide additional information regarding surgical errors and the laws surrounding medical negligence.