In a 21st century dominated by technology and medical advances, patients who are scheduled to undergo a surgical procedure generally expect that the surgery will be performed skillfully, competently and without complication. Unfortunately, surgical errors are more common than most people would like to believe or than hospitals would like to admit. Without question, all surgeries carry with them risks of complications such as allergic reactions, cardiovascular complications, wound healing complications, etc. However, each year, there are thousands of documented, preventable surgical errors related to medical malpractice. These errors can be broken down generally into three phases related to the surgical procedure: pre–operative; operative; and post–operative.
Pre–operative surgical errors include a failure on the part of the physician to evaluate a patient's then–current health and medical history, failure to mark or identify the appropriate surgical location, failure to appreciate a patient's current use of medications or failure to properly interpret available radiographic or pathological specimens. Negligence in this arena can lead to wrong-site surgeries, failure to remove the entirety of a body part or lesion that is the subject of the operation or the administration of a medication that the patient is allergic to such as heparin.
Operative surgical errors are those that occur in the operating room during the procedure. Such errors include negligence on the part of the anesthesiologist in administering the right levels of anesthesia to a patient (such negligence can lead to asphyxia, comas, brain damage, organ damage and even death), positioning errors causing injury or paralysis to arms/legs or the body, use of un–sterile equipment, operation on the wrong site, perforation or puncture of nearby arteries, veins or organs, nerve damage or unnecessary duration of surgery.
Finally, post–operative surgical errors are those that occur during the recovery or healing phase. Generally, these errors are the result of below–standard nursing or physician care that results in the development of infection, bed sores, sepsis or other potentially life–threatening conditions. Other types of post-operative negligence occurs in the ICU or recovery room where patients may not be monitored carefully, something that results in patients aspirating and developing respiratory difficulty, patients being allowed to remain in a prolonged state of delirium which causes cognitive injuries and/or suffering strokes that go undocumented.
Those who have been victimized by a surgical error are often told that the error was a routine complication associated with the surgery. In many instances, however, these errors can lead to life altering consequences, increased medical expenses and continued physical and emotional issues.