9 Common Surgical Errors in the Operating Room

July 3, 2023

Surgeons are responsible for your health and your life. They should be professional and medically responsible anytime they work on your body. Sadly, many surgeons are negligent and cause extremely serious injuries. Surgical errors often violate the standard of care and constitute medical malpractice. Many of these are preventable mistakes if the surgeon followed a surgical safety checklist or their training.

At McEldrew Purtell, our experienced medical malpractice lawyers know what to do if a surgeon makes a mistake. We know that the healthcare system can be difficult to navigate and that adverse events from surgeries could negatively affect your life. We perform a systematic review of your case and help you determine what compensation is available for you.

9 Surgical Errors in the Operating Room To Be Aware Of

Countless medical mistakes could occur in an operating room, but these nine preventable mistakes are some of the most common.

1. Administering the Wrong Medication or Incorrect Dosage

One of the most common surgical errors is giving a patient the wrong type or amount of medication. Drugs such as pain medicine, anesthesia, and more are essential for surgery and post-surgical recovery. When doctors or nurses give the wrong medication or wrong dosage, the results can be catastrophic.

Surgical teams should carefully review a patient's chart to determine what medication they should receive, at what dose, and at what time. Failure to follow basic instructions is one of the most preventable mistakes that occur in the operating room.

2. Wrong-Site Surgery

Wrong-site surgeries occur when the doctor performs the procedure on the wrong part of the body. For example, if a patient needs surgery on their left leg, and the surgeon performs the surgery on the right leg instead, this is a wrong-site surgery. This happens in many common surgical procedures and can do irreparable damage to the area in which the surgeon mistakenly operated.

This mistake is often due to a lack of review and procedures to prevent this error. Responsible hospitals follow a surgical safety checklist that helps to prevent wrong-site surgeries.

3. Performing the Wrong Procedure on the Patient or a Procedure on the Wrong Patient

At times, surgeons perform the wrong procedure on the patient in front of them. This often results from human error or a complete disregard for patient safety. Nurses, staff, and surgeons should double-check surgical procedures to ensure the right surgery occurs on the patient.

Another shocking but common mistake is to perform a procedure on the wrong patient. Surgical patients deserve high-quality medical care and the operation they agreed to. Wrong-patient surgery can lead to sentinel events that cause severe harm, catastrophic injuries, or even death.

4. Equipment Failure or Inadequate Use

Surgeons rely on their equipment and tools to perform surgery correctly. This equipment may include items, such as scalpels, biofeedback machines, computers, cameras, and more. As surgical technology advances, the amount of equipment has increased in the operating room. 

Medical errors can occur if doctors are not properly trained, fail to use the necessary equipment, or the equipment itself fails. The doctor, staff, or even the hospital may be legally responsible for this breach of the standard of care.

5. Failure to Follow Proper Protocols for Hygiene and Disinfection

Surgeons undergo a multi-step process to wash their hands and disinfect their bodies prior to surgery. Failure to follow these protocols can result in serious infections that damage your body or even lead to death. Surgical site infections (SSIs) often occur because the staff failed to clean the area, their own hands, or the medical instruments used in the surgery.

Hygiene and disinfection protocols also apply to the patient's body before, during, and after surgery. Hospital staff should understand and follow all of these steps to prevent serious infections.

6. Incorrect Anesthesia Dosages

Anesthesia is a crucial part of many surgeries. It keeps the patient safely unconscious during the surgery when handled properly. However, the wrong dosage can cause very serious issues. Too little may cause the patient to wake up during surgery and experience severe pain and trauma. Too much can lead to a coma, brain damage, or even death.

Anesthesiologists must be cautious and responsible when handling this dangerous but necessary part of the surgery. Their failure to do so is likely medical malpractice.

7. Causing Nerve Damage, Hemorrhage, or Excessive Bleeding

Medical errors during surgery may cause serious and even permanent forms of damage. The surgeon cuts through tissue, nerves, bone, and more during many surgeries. Serious nerve damage can occur when the surgery is performed improperly, which may lead to pain or loss of sensation in the affected area.

Surgeries may also cause hemorrhages or excessive bleeding in patients. A surgeon may nick an artery, give improper amounts of medication, resulting in bleeding issues, or other mistakes that may lead to serious harm.

8. Foreign Objects Left Inside a Patient's Body

Leaving foreign objects inside a patient's body is one of the most common and dangerous mistakes that could occur during surgery. These foreign objects are often materials used during surgery, such as gauze, medical instruments, or sanitization equipment. 

When these objects are left behind, they can cause severe infections. These infections often require heavy doses of antibiotics and further surgery to remove the foreign object. 

9. Poor Communication of the Medical Staff Leading to Surgical Mistakes

Every medical staff member before, during, and after the surgery must communicate well to avoid surgical mistakes. Lack of communication often means important people have the wrong information about a patient and make mistakes because of that information. Staff should be highly trained on proper communication methods and ways to accurately record important information.

Seek Legal Assistance for Surgical Errors and Medical Malpractice

Surgical mistakes can leave you injured, in pain, and dealing with severe financial fallout. The medical bills could be piling up all while you try to recover from the surgery that was supposed to help you rather than hurt you. At McEldrew Purtell, our dedicated attorneys and staff know how to investigate your case. We look for the most common medical errors during surgery when reviewing your case and thoroughly investigate the harm caused to you.

Let our experienced team help you through this difficult time. Contact us today for a free consultation of your case.