Many people would do just about anything to avoid having to undergo surgery — even live with chronic pain. The idea of being placed under general anesthesia and cut open is frightening. Most everyone knows first- or second-hand of a case where something has gone wrong during surgery.
The evidence is more than anecdotal. According to a new study by Coverys (a medical liability insurer), more medical malpractice claims involve surgery than any other issue, with the exception of diagnostic errors. General surgery was the most common type, followed by orthopedic and neurosurgery.
The study looked at over 2,500 closed malpractice claims from 2014 through 2018. Of those, 29% involved permanent and significant injuries, while 9% involved fatalities.
So, why is surgery the second most common reason for malpractice lawsuits (at 25% of all claims)?
Not surprisingly, most of them (over three-fourths) involved physician performance during the procedure. Nearly 40% referenced a lack of technical skill. Relatively few, however, mentioned two surgical issues we hear a lot about — leaving an object inside the patient (7%) and operating on the wrong site/side (3%).
The authors of the study recommended removing as many distractions as possible in the operating room. They advised having no music, turning off or silencing cellphones, not allowing observers and minimizing conversation. They suggested having what in aviation is know as a “sterile cockpit.” Flight crew members are not allowed to do any nonessential duties or have nonessential conversations during takeoff, landing and in other high-risk situations.
Interesting fact: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) adopted the Sterile Cockpit Rule in part due to a tragic commercial plane crash in 1974 that took the lives of over 70 people on a commercial flight, including the father and two brothers of late-night host Stephen Colbert.
Not all surgery-related malpractice claims involved the operation itself. Some cited the decision-making process, presurgical care, judgment and communication. Another recommendation by the authors was that surgeons make sure they’re giving their patients the necessary information to provide informed consent and that they document those discussions.
If you or a loved one suffered harm as the result of a surgical procedure, it can be difficult to know if it was preventable. Nonmedical professionals can feel overwhelmed by the information and excuses provided by doctors and other medical personnel. That’s why it’s essential to seek the guidance of an experienced malpractice attorney.