Surgical Errors

Have you or a loved one been injured during a surgery as a result of poor surgical care? Reducing the incidence of medical injuries is a national healthcare priority. Patient safety research studies demonstrate that a high percentage of patient injuries are caused by preventable surgical error.

Injuries due to preventable surgical error can include surgeries performed without appropriate indication for the surgery, improper surgical technique, improper positioning of the patient during surgery, foreign bodies such as a surgical sponge or stent left inside a patient, and technical failures.

Patient injuries due to surgical error can involve hemorrhage, damage to nearby organs and structures, surgery on the wrong side of the body or on the wrong organ, organ perforation, nerve injuries and serious infection. Some injuries can lead to death.

Injuries due to surgical error occur in a broad spectrum of procedures, including cardiac, gynecological, orthopaedic, gastrointestinal, ophthalmologic, gallbladder, vascular, colon/rectal, urological, spinal neurological, laparoscopic and robotic surgeries.

Why do preventable injuries occur?

Surgical errors are linked to a wide variety of factors, including surgeon inexperience, lack of optimal technology, poor supervision, inadequate hospital systems and poor communication among caregivers.

Surgical errors causing injury are sometimes compounded by the surgeon’s failure to recognize the injury during surgery resulting in a lost opportunity to repair the injury immediately.  Some examples of late recognition of surgical errors include the perforation of the bowel during gallbladder surgery, the puncturing of the stomach during placement of a feeding tube (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube/PEG tube), perforation of the stomach in a laparoscopic assisted examination of the digestive system, cutting the ureters during a oophorectomy, and cutting the wrong artery during kidney surgery.

Surgical error can also occur during the post-operative hours and days when there can be a lack of vigilance by healthcare providers regarding symptoms that suggest infection, such as abdominal distension, pain, abnormal white blood count, abnormal temperatures and abnormal findings on diagnostic images.  The failure to timely diagnose and properly treat a post-operative infection can lead to sepsis and death. Family members and those who know their loved one’s personality best should be observant and cautious during the post-surgical period and inform medical personnel if they suspect something might be wrong.