Anesthesia errors can result in serious injuries and even death. When you or a loved one have been injured in an anesthesia-related accident, finding the right kind of lawyer to represent your case is critical. Learn more about five common anesthesia-related surgery errors and how an anesthesia error lawyer can help.

5 Common Anesthesia Errors During Surgery

Anesthesia errors are a particular mistake that can lead to medical malpractice lawsuits. This can leave some patients asking, "What is medical malpractice?"

Medical malpractice can occur when the hospital's medical team makes medical errors. These errors can be related to anesthesia errors during the following:

  • Surgical procedures
  • Minor procedures
  • Any medical procedure

One defining factor of a successful medical malpractice claim is that the error stemmed from a preventable mistake. Your doctor owes you and other patients a minimum standard of care. When medical providers fail to deliver care to that standard, patients can suffer serious injuries, including:

  • High or low blood pressure
  • Allergic reaction
  • Heart attack
  • Dental damage
  • Brain damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Organ damage
  • Anesthesia awareness
  • Death

One recent medical paper studied anesthesia errors between 1980 and 2021. It found that the incidence of anesthesia errors ranges between 0.02% to 1.12%. The most common contributing factor was inexperience by the anesthesiologist, nurse, or student administering the medication.

Although the mortality rate due to anesthesia errors has decreased over the last several decades, the risk still exists. Today, anesthesia-related mortality is estimated at approximately 1 per 100,000.

We discuss five common types of anesthesia errors that can occur during surgical procedures. If you or a loved one have suffered from an anesthesia-related error, an anesthesia error medical malpractice attorney may be able to help you recover fair compensation.

1. Incorrect Dosage Risks

Between 7,000 and 9,000 people in the United States die annually due to medication errors. Some of these deaths are attributed to receiving the incorrect dosage of anesthesia during surgery.

Incorrect dosages of anesthesia can lead to the following medical issues:

  • Anesthesia awareness
  • Unnecessary suffering during regional anesthesia
  • Overdose
  • Death

These dosage errors can occur for various reasons, including the following:

  • Syringe swap 
  • Pump misuse
  • Dilution error
  • Misunderstanding the dose
  • Delivering the wrong type of anesthesia

Regardless of the reason for the medical error, the patient can suffer serious harm that should have been preventable.

2. Failure To Monitor Vital Signs

Another mistake that can lead to an anesthesia-related medical malpractice suit occurs when medical professionals fail to monitor the patient's vital signs. Researchers claim that continuous monitoring of patient vital signs can help detect abnormal vital signs. This can help medical professionals identify deteriorating patients and prevent serious injury and death. 

The vital signs that the medical team can monitor include:

  • Respiratory rate
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Peripheral oxygen saturation

This continuous monitoring may be essential for patients who suffer from hypotension and tachycardia, as the likelihood of serious adverse events may increase.

3. Intubation Errors

Intubation errors are another common anesthesia error that can occur during surgery. Intubation errors can occur when the medical professional intubates the patient incorrectly, or a difficult intubation occurs. 

Difficult intubation is a significant problem in clinical anesthesia. It can lead to low oxygen levels in the brain and impaired ventilation. Low oxygen levels can lead to brain damage in mere minutes. 

Even though serious intubation errors are relatively rare, death and brain damage related to intubation make up a significant percentage of anesthesia medical malpractice claims.

There are patient factors that can contribute to the likelihood of difficult intubation. These factors include the following:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Morbid obesity
  • Narrowing of the airway due to blood clots or tumors

Another common issue resulting from intubation errors is airway trauma, which may occur during a difficult intubation. 

When the medical team fails to analyze the patient for potential contributing factors, they are less likely to prepare properly for potentially difficult intubation. This lack of preparation can increase the risk of trauma, serious injury, and death.

4. Defective Equipment in Anesthesia Administration

Defective equipment used during the administration of anesthesia can also lead to error and injury.

Defective intraoperative anesthetic machines can fail during surgery. When this occurs, the patient can be at risk of serious harm, including:

  • Hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels)
  • Anesthesia awareness
  • Death 

Common machine failure can include:

  • Entire machine failure
  • Failure of the anesthesia delivery
  • Failure of oxygen delivery
  • Failure of the mechanical ventilator

It is difficult to determine the rate of anesthesia machine failures. Although anesthesia machine failure is relatively rare, it is a reasonable cause for concern. 

When defective equipment harms the patient, several parties may be held accountable for the damages. Responsible parties may include:

  • The equipment manufacturer that sold a defective product
  • The hospital that failed to maintain the equipment
  • The medical professional who misused the equipment

If you or a loved one have been harmed by defective anesthesia equipment, an anesthesia error attorney may be able to help.

5. Communication Breakdowns Among Medical Professionals

Another issue related to anesthesia errors is miscommunication between anesthesiologists and medical teams.

recent study utilized the Anesthesia Closed Claims Project database to investigate the role of communication failures in patient injuries. It studied 910 claims, of which 43% contributed to patient injury. These communication failures occurred in the following environments:

  • During surgery - 47%
  • Preoperatively - 28%
  • Postoperatively - 23%

The study found that communication failure contributed to 43% of anesthesia-related malpractice claims. It found that the most common cause of communication errors was related to the content of the information provided.

The researcher found that the four most common types of communication failures were:

  1. Information was never provided - 31%
  2. Correct information was provided but not reviewed - 15%
  3. Information was provided too late - 12%
  4. information was inaccurate, insufficient, or ambiguous - 11%

The study also considered the medical personnel most likely involved in the communication failure. It found the following parties most commonly involved:

  • Anesthesiology team - 94%
  • Surgical team - 57%
  • Nursing - 48%
  • Other personnel, including other physicians, blood bank, pharmacy, and laboratory - 28%
  • Patient/family - 22%

The topic of communication failure was most frequently one of the following:

  • Intraoperative event - 34%
  • Preoperative medical history information - 27%
  • Operating issues related to oxygen and lasers or cautery - 12%
  • Postoperative care plan  - 12%
  • Post-surgery patient status changes  - 11%

The Role of Medical Malpractice Attorneys

Medical malpractice attorneys can help you receive fair compensation for damages related to medical errors. There are numerous types of medical malpractice claims. Finding an attorney who understands this type of malpractice is critical when you have been injured in an anesthesia-related incident. The lawyers at Ratzan Weissman & Boldt work with surgical anesthesia medical malpractice victims. Contact us today to arrange your consultation.