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How to Identify Medical Malpractice from Standard Surgical Risks

There are many different parameters to establish whether complications in a surgery should result in a medical malpractice lawsuit or not. If the negligent conduct of a surgeon falls below the standard of care that is acceptable, as compared to that provided by reasonably competent surgeons practicing that area of surgery under similar circumstances, and if a patient is harmed in the process, it can be viewed as a surgical error.

Mistakes that are preventable are most likely to be referred to as surgical errors. There are some surgical errors that are the direct result of the incompetence of a physician, while others that arise due to inadequate procedures or work processes or poor preoperative planning.

In American hospitals, every year thousands of patients suffer from surgical errors. According to a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine in 1999, medical errors, including those from surgery, were estimated to have affected 44,000 to 98,000 patients each year. Almost all types of surgeries such as joint replacement, heart surgeries, organ transplants, etc. come with their own set of complications that may lead to errors which in turn, are grounds for medical malpractice.

Common Types of Surgical Errors

Some of the most common types of surgical errors are:

  • Incorrect incisions
  • Wrong-site surgery
  • Leaving equipment inside a patient
  • Nerve damage
  • Operating on the wrong patient
  • Anaesthesiology errors

Every surgery does come with some degree of complication or risks such as a stroke or a heart failure. There are some surgeries where patients are required to sign consent forms which have advised them about these perceived risks. But some errors tend to go beyond these accepted risks.

Common Causes of Surgical Errors

There are certain standard protocols for physicians and medical staff to follow before, during, and after a surgical procedure. However, even despite these protocols, surgical errors might be caused due to the following factors:

  • Insufficient preoperative planning-It is important for medical staff to have access to a patient's medical history and should evaluate the risks of a particular surgery.
  • Miscommunication-This may occur if a wrong surgery is conducted on a patient or a patient's drug dosage may be misread. It is important after a surgery that all surgical equipment is accounted for, since it is possible that certain equipment such as surgical sponges are left behind in the body cavity of a patient.
  • Under the influence or fatigue -Surgical errors occur if staff or surgeons have been work long hours or are under the influence of alcohol or have taken drugs to stay alert, due to which their judgment may be impaired.
  • Neglect-Using defective surgical instruments or failing to properly sterilize instruments which could lead to septic shock, infection, and other conditions.
  • Incompetence-Surgeons who are incapable and incompetent to carry out certain surgical procedures due to their lack of training in the subject.

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