How Often Do Surgical Errors in the Operating Room Occur?

June 13, 2023

Every year, thousands of Americans who go through surgical procedures suffer from surgical errors in the operating room. And for many of them, the outcome can be devastating and life-altering. Some may end up with complications they didn't have before the surgery, some may come out with a lifelong disability that will reduce the quality of their lives, and some may even lose their lives. 

If you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered from surgical errors, you need to understand what amounts to surgical errors and how a medical malpractice attorney can help you recover compensation for your injuries. 

Surgical Errors Statistics: How Common Are Surgical Errors?

Medical errors are a serious public health problem and are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Among the different types of medical errors, surgical errors have severe consequences. 

Here are some statistics on surgical errors in the United States:

Different Types of Surgical Errors

Surgical errors occur in several forms. Below are the most common types of surgical errors:

Retained Foreign Bodies

Cases of retained surgical bodies (RSB) happen when health professionals forget any object inside the patient after a procedure. The consequence of leaving foreign bodies after surgery may manifest in different forms. The victim may feel the effect immediately after the operation, or it may take months or even years after the surgical procedure before the patient feels any pain or discomfort. 

In such cases, the patient would require another surgical procedure to remove the object. Retained foreign bodies happen 1,500 times out of the 28 million surgical procedures performed nationwide. Sponges are one of the most common objects health providers forget in the body after surgery, and they are mostly forgotten in the abdomen, pelvis, and retroperitoneal space. 

Lack of Proper Monitoring  

Surgical errors can also happen because medical professionals fail to monitor a patient during a surgical procedure. This can result in complications that can lead to life-threatening situations. It can happen when the nurse or anesthesiologist is reckless or absent-minded and fails to properly monitor the patient's vital signs to signal the doctor when there’s a rapid rise or fall in values. 

Wrong-Site, Wrong-Procedure, Wrong-Patient Errors (WSPEs) 

Sometimes, a patient may undergo surgery on the wrong body part, have the wrong procedure, or go through a procedure intended for another patient. These "wrong-site, wrong-procedure, wrong-patient errors" are called never events — errors that should never occur and may be a sign of serious underlying safety problems. They often happen because of communication errors or misdiagnoses of a patient's illness. 

Here are some instances of WSPE:

  • Wrong side: A patient had the right side of her vulva removed instead of the left side, which had a cancerous lesion. Operating on the wrong level of the spine is a common mistake neurosurgeons make.
  • Wrong patient: A patient underwent a cardiac procedure meant for another patient with a similar last name.

The Impact of Surgical Errors on Patient Safety

Patient safety has become increasingly important in recent decades, and it’s now an essential facet of providing quality health care. Complications because of a surgeon's errors and system failures are inherent in surgical practice and are preventable causes of morbidity and mortality. Surgical errors cause severe injuries to patients, resulting in different surgical complications, including:

  • Brain damage
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Temporary or permanent disability
  • Paralysis and nerve damage
  • Death

The Prevalence of Surgical Mistakes

Surgical malpractice is a lot more common than people think. Every year, thousands of Americans suffer from preventable surgical errors that would never occur if health practitioners were not negligent or reckless. 

The Legal Aspect of Surgical Errors

Surgical errors may amount to medical malpractice, but not always. This is because the law acknowledges that medical professionals are human beings, and so they can make mistakes. The law will only hold them liable if they were negligent in providing care. 

Therefore, to understand when a surgical error amounts to medical malpractice, you need to understand medical negligence. 

Medical Malpractice and Human Errors: An Overview

Every case of medical malpractice involves medical error, but every medical error does not amount to medical malpractice. For medical errors to amount to medical malpractice, there must be medical negligence.

Medical negligence in surgical procedures occurs when the surgeon's action in the operating room falls below the accepted standard of care. This means that another surgeon of similar training and experience would have acted differently in a similar circumstance. Also, the surgeon’s failure to meet the standard of care must be the actual and proximate cause of the harm you suffered. 

The Role of a Medical Malpractice Attorney in Surgical Error Cases

A medical malpractice attorney's tasks include discussing with you, understanding your medical history, and evaluating your injuries to determine if it’s likely that a surgical error has occurred. If they suspect that the surgical complications you suffered are probably because of surgical error, the next thing is to investigate your case properly and determine if you have a case. 

If they decide you have a case, they will help you file the case, negotiate with insurance companies to try to settle your case, and represent you in court if your case goes to trial.

How McEldrew Purtell Can Help

Proving medical malpractice in surgical errors can be difficult, but you can count on our medical malpractice lawyers at McEldrew Purtell. We will help you understand your case and fight for your right to receive adequate compensation for your injuries. Contact us today to discover the difference our medical malpractice lawyers can make in your case and how we can help you to rebuild your life after a surgical error.