Massachusetts General Says Drug Errors during Surgery “Startlingly High”

November 16, 2015 | Crandall & Pera Law
Massachusetts General Says Drug Errors during Surgery “Startlingly High”

Researchers in the anesthesiology department at Massachusetts General Hospital have found that about half of all surgeries involve medication errors or unintended drug side effects. The study was published in the journal Anesthesiology after researchers observed 277 procedures at the medical center.

The study is bringing an overlooked aspect of surgery into the spotlight. Previous studies of this nature relied mostly on self-reported information from clinicians as opposed to direct observation. According the lead author, Karen Nanji, medication errors and drug side effects during surgery “have really not been studied in any systematic way.”

Why the problem persists

More than a third of the observed errors caused some kind of patient harm. Harm, in this case, is defined as an adverse reaction that could have devastating implications. Sometimes, vital signs were affected. In other situations, mislabeled or improperly administered drugs elevated the risk of post-operative infection.

Nanji told the Boston Globe, that “In the operating room, things happen very rapidly, and patients’ conditions change quickly, so we don’t have time to go through that whole process, which can take hours.” Furthermore, there are additional safeguards put in place throughout hospitals that cannot be out in place during surgical procedures. For example, when a prescription is issued from the hospital’s pharmacy, that medication is double-checked by a nurse before the patient received it. In an operating room, that extra set of eyes may not be possible.

The Food and Drug Administration is actively working to reduce the impact of medication errors, but these efforts may not be enough. Unfortunately, the full scope of the problem is difficult to grasp, as medication errors are reported on a voluntary basis.

Additionally, the efforts of the FDA are primarily focused on improper prescriptions. They concentrate on doctor-patient communication, naming conventions, and bar code technology. However, patients undergoing surgery are generally under anesthesia; they are unaware of what is being administered and how, and cannot speak up if a problem arises.

Ultimately, this is an avoidable problem. Unfortunately, until we know the extent of the issue and its common culprits, it is a difficult problem to solve. There is no such thing as a routine surgery, and a medication error can result in permanent injury or death.

If you or someone you know has experienced complications due to surgery, you may be entitled to compensation. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Crandall & Pera Law can help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation at one of our Ohio or Kentucky office locations.