Study finds medication errors happen alarmingly often during surgery

On behalf of Steve Pittman at Chatham — Pittman, PLLC

A recent study suggests that significant and preventable medication errors may occur in more than half of surgical procedures.

Medication errors occur all too frequently in hospitals in Hernando and other parts of Mississippi. According to the FDA, across the country, more than 30,000 medication errors have been reported since 1990. The overall number of these errors is likely higher, since this figure is based on patient reports, rather than comprehensive tracking. Sadly, new research suggests that potentially harmful medication errors may be especially common during surgical procedures.

Monitoring medication errors

According to CBS News, the study was based on observations of 277 surgical procedures that were performed at Massachusetts General Hospital. Doctors administered medication a total of 3,675 times over the course of those procedures. During 193 of those administrations, errors that resulted in adverse events occurred.

The study's researchers observed various types of errors. Sometimes, doctors made mistakes because of the way that a drug was labeled. Other doctors administered incorrect doses or failed to use the appropriate medication, given the patient's condition and vital signs. Finally, some doctors made mistakes in documenting the administration of medication.

Assessing error severity and frequency

The number of errors was relatively small when compared to the overall number of medication administrations. Mistakes were only made during roughly 5 percent of the administrations. However, these mistakes still provide cause for concern, given the following findings:

  • Altogether, mistakes occurred during 124 of the surgeries, or over half of the observed procedures.
  • All of the errors were rated "significant" or worse. About two-thirds were considered "serious," and 2 percent were deemed life-threatening.
  • Almost 80 percent of the mistakes were judged preventable.

Forbes notes that these results are also worrisome because Massachusetts General Hospital is recognized for its safety protocols. The hospital is even viewed as a leader in patient safety. This suggests that other hospitals with less esteemed reputations may record even more medication errors during surgical procedures.

Troublingly, as CBS News points out, the nature of the surgical operating environment may significantly increase the likelihood of safety protocol breaches and mistakes. Surgical staff members often work at a fast pace, and delayed action can result in poor outcomes for patients. This may encourage quick decisions and raise the risk of mistakes, which may have devastating consequences.

Pursuing recourse as a victim

Sadly, as this study indicates, medication errors have the potential to cause serious complications, injuries or even death. When preventable errors lead to any of these outcomes, victims or their dependents may be able to seek recourse.

In Mississippi, a physician's failure to provide a reasonable standard of care may constitute medical malpractice. However, proving that a physician breached this standard of care can be difficult. Therefore, seeking the advice and assistance of a medical malpractice attorney may be advisable for most medication error victims.