Over the years, much progress has been made in the field of anesthesiology. Although, anesthesia administration errors still occur and can be dangerous and may cause serious complications, injuries, and even death. However, not every anesthesia error amounts to medical malpractice.
This article explains what anesthesia is, how it’s used, actions that constitute anesthesia errors, complications that commonly arise due to anesthesia errors, when those errors can amount to medical malpractice, and what to do if you or a loved one was injured or killed as a result of an anesthesia error.
What is Anesthesia?
Anesthesia is a state of controlled, temporary loss of sensation or awareness that is induced during medical procedures. There are three types of anesthesia, which are used in different procedures.
- Local anesthesia is used to numb a specific part of the body and is used mainly for procedures such as dental procedures and skin biopsies. Usually, you are awake during these procedures.
- Regional anesthesia is used to numb feeling in a larger part of the body, such as a limb or everything below the waist. Medical professionals use regional anesthesia in procedures like an epidural (spinal block) during a cesarean section. You may be awake during the procedure.
- General anesthesia is a type of anesthesia that makes you unconscious, and it is typically used in more invasive surgeries.
How Does Anesthesia Work?
Anesthesia works in different ways, depending on the type used and specific procedure. Some types of anesthesia work by numbing specific parts of your body, other types numb your brain and induce unconsciousness. Generally, anesthesia temporarily interrupts nerve signals in your brain and body.
How is Anesthesia Administered?
Anesthesia can be administered differently, depending on the procedure or the type of anesthesia being used:
- Applying it on the skin and other body parts (topical anesthetic)
- Injecting it via shots or intravenously
- Inhaling it as a gas through a mask
Anesthesia Errors and Medical Malpractice
Anesthesia errors can occur before, during, or after a medical procedure. Common anesthesia errors include:
- Administering the wrong type of anesthesia or delays in administering it
- Failing to give the patient explicit instructions on what they should avoid eating or drinking before and/or after surgery. For example, instructions to fast for several hours before certain types of procedures
- Not analyzing a patient's medical history
- Administering the incorrect dosage of anesthesia; either too much or not enough
- Failing to properly monitor a patient that is under anesthesia
- Failing to recognize, monitor, or treat anesthesia complications
- Failing to monitor a patient's body position during surgery, to prevent possible injury
- Not properly informing the patient about the risks involved with a given procedure
- Turning off the alarm of the pulse oximeter (a device used to monitor a person's oxygen saturation), either intentionally or not
- Using defective equipment
- Incorrectly inserting an intubation tube
- Failing to recognize an allergic reaction to anesthesia
Complications and Injuries From Anesthesia Errors
Procedures that involve the use of anesthesia are naturally higher risk and require a trained anesthesiologist to be involved and monitor the patient closely. Complications from anesthesia errors may be mild and only last for a few minutes after a procedure. Others may be more severe with permanent, life-altering consequences. Complications that may arise from anesthesia errors include:
- Brain damage, which can happen when a patient is sedated for too long because of excessive anesthesia
- Damage to the heart and other major organs
- Spinal cord injury
- Heart attack, hypertension (high blood pressure), and stroke
- Asphyxia (lack of oxygen), which may cause cerebral palsy in newborn babies.
- Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction to anesthesia)
- Nausea and vomiting due to excess dose(s) of anesthesia
- Delirium and confusion
- Wrongful Death
- Anesthesia awareness-when a patient wakes up during surgery while sedated under general anesthesia. The patient becomes conscious of their environment, specific events of the surgery, and may even feel pain. Although this is a rare event occurring in one or two out of every 1,000 procedures involving general anesthesia in the United States, it can be a traumatic experience that may cause post-traumatic stress disorder.
Complications from anesthesia errors may have long-term effects. Damage to critical organs (like the heart) can permanently weaken the body and require life-long medical care. Some errors may damage a body part that was previously unharmed and would now require additional surgery to repair.
When Do Anesthesia Errors Amount to Medical Malpractice?
Anesthesia errors can occur for several different reasons. Errors frequently occur when an anesthesiologist acts negligently, either intentionally or unintentionally. As in all cases of medical malpractice, proving negligence requires you to show that the care the anesthesiologist provided was below the accepted level of standard of care.
What is the Standard of Care?
The "medical standard of care" is usually defined as the level and type of care that a reasonably skilled and competent health care professional with a similar background would have provided under the circumstances that led to the alleged medical malpractice.
For anesthesia errors to be considered medical malpractice, it must be proven that the conduct of the medical professional fell below the accepted standard of care, or they acted negligently. And, that the error caused the patient injury.
Medical malpractice lawyers will usually hire an expert medical witness to better understand what happened and to establish that the actions of the medical professional fell below the accepted level of standard of care.
What to Do if You or a Loved One was a Victim of an Anesthesia Error
If you or your loved one has suffered an injury or complication, or even death because of an anesthesia error, the next step is to consult with an anesthesia error lawyer. An anesthesia error lawyer should advise you on actions you can take that will help negotiate a settlement on your behalf, or fight for you in court.
The medical malpractice lawyers at Ratzan Weissman & Boldt are experienced with handling anesthesia error cases and are ready to fight for you. As a victim, you have the legal right to just and fair compensation and the power to hold those who have caused harm accountable.
Our medical malpractice lawyers are based in Florida but we handle cases throughout the United States. Initial consultations are always free; call us today at 855-906-0334 or use our online contact form.