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Study Found Medication Errors in 1 out of 2 Surgeries

Published on November 19, 2015

Researchers from the anesthesiology department of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) observed 277 random procedures for seven months there and found that half of all surgeries involved some kind of medication error or unintended drug side effects. Of these errors, more than one-third resulted in harm the patient.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine identified medical errors as a leading cause of death, killing about 44,000 Americans every year – more than car crashes or breast cancer. Since this statistic was released, efforts have been put forth in an attempt to reduce errors and improve safety for patients. This ranges from simple changes like a checklist for surgical staff to avoid lapses like operating on the wrong side of the body to an electronic prescribing system that can warn doctors of potential errors.

In most parts of the hospital, prescriptions are double-checked by pharmacists and nurses before they reach a patient, but in operating wards, the same safeguards aren’t in place and prescription drug errors happen frequently. According to an interview of Karen Nanji in the Boston Globe, the lead author of the study and an anesthesiologist at MGH, this is because things happen so rapidly in operating rooms. Patients’ conditions can change so quickly they don’t have time to go through that entire process, which can take hours.

Of all the errors observed, three were considered life threatening and fortunately, no patients died of mistakes. In some cases, the harm lay in a change of vital signs or elevated risk of infection.

When most people think of a medication error, they often think of a patient getting the wrong drug or an incorrect dose, but for this study, that wasn’t always the case. For example, many of the errors had to do with not labeling drugs when they were drawn into syringes for delivery. Because most medications just look like clear liquids, it could easily be mixed up in the operating room, posing a risk that the wrong one could be delivered. These types of breaches in protocol were counted as errors.

The study also found that one-fifth of the errors were a result of adverse drug reactions, where the doctor was not aware of a drug allergy ahead of time. Also, it showed that operations that lasted longer than six hours were more likely to involve an error compared to shorter procedures.

The study concluded that hospitals need to do more to improve safety in both processes and technology, like a bar-coding scanning system to alert doctors of potential mistakes.

With this study, Nanji initiated the study and brought the idea to hospital executives, where she said she received no resistance about a project that could reveal patient safety lapses. This was a great idea on Nanji’s part, but what if hospitals initiated their own studies? If every hospital increased efforts in trying to reveal gaps in processes and technology, this could help to significantly decrease medical errors with time.

Until this happens, patients are still at risk and it’s up to those who are injured to expose errors so hospitals are held accountable for their mistakes. The Phoenix medical malpractice lawyers at Knapp & Roberts can help you do this. This not only brings the errors to light, it often causes hospitals to improve procedures so the same error does not happen again. Most importantly, we work tirelessly to win a settlement or jury verdict that adequately reflects the full range of your damages.

If you or a member of your family has suffered from medical wrongdoing, give us a call today at 480-991-7677 to find out if you have a valid medical malpractice case. Not only is the initial consultation free, you will pay us absolutely nothing unless we obtain an award of money for you.

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The personal injury attorneys in Phoenix, Arizona, at Knapp & Roberts have the compassion and trial lawyer skills to tell your story to a jury. We will get to know you and your family so that we can help the jury understand what has happened to you and your family and how it has changed your lives. Obtain the compensation necessary for the injuries and losses you have suffered.