Anesthesia Errors: What They Are and What You Can Do
Every year in the United States, over 50 million surgeries are performed. Among those 50 million procedures, an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 people lose their lives to medical errors, anesthesia errors included. Unfortunately, even with modern technology, anesthesia errors persist, leading to alarming consequences, including permanent, debilitating injuries. In fact, out of every 1 million patients to undergo anesthesia, seven of them die. If you or a loved one has experienced an injury before, during, or after surgery that was caused by an anesthesia error, you may have a medical malpractice case on your hands. Knowing more about anesthesia errors, including what they involve and the kind of recourse available, is an important step towards justice.
Before learn exactly what anesthesia errors entail, here are key takeaways to keep in mind:
- Anesthesia errors encompass a range of mishaps that can occur at various stages of the medical process.
- These errors are not confined to the operating table but can manifest before, during, and after surgery.
- The effects of anesthesia errors can range from minor inconveniences to severe, sometimes permanent injuries.
- Seeking legal recourse, particularly the expertise of medical malpractice lawyers, is crucial when dealing with anesthesia errors.
Types of Surgical Anesthesia
Prior to learning about the kind of anesthesia errors that may occur, it’s vital to learn about the different kinds of surgical anesthesia, when they are used, and what these types do.
Local anesthesia is a crucial facet of surgical pain management. It’s designed to render a specific area or body part entirely insensitive to pain. This type of anesthesia is typically employed in less invasive procedures, such as mole removals, dental work, or superficial biopsies. By targeting only the area where the surgical intervention is required, local anesthesia allows patients to remain fully conscious and alert, contributing to a quicker post-operative recovery.
Regional anesthesia is the next step up from local, meaning that this form of anesthesia numbs are larger region of the body. Examples of regional anesthesia include epidurals and spinal blocks, often utilized in surgeries involving the lower body, like childbirth or orthopedic procedures. Regional anesthesia offers not only pain relief but also muscle relaxation, facilitating intricate surgeries that demand the patient’s cooperation while ensuring they remain comfortable.
The last form of anesthesia is called general anesthesia, which plunges the patient into a state of unconsciousness, rendering them oblivious to the entire surgical procedure and any sensation of pain. While under general anesthesia, patients cannot respond to external stimuli and are effectively disconnected from the world around them. This type of anesthesia is instrumental in highly invasive and complex surgeries, where patient movement or awareness could pose significant risks.
Some procedures that require general anesthesia include knee and hip replacements, heart surgeries, and even cosmetic procedures like abdominoplasties (tummy tucks).
A common misconception is that anesthesia errors will occur only during surgery. The truth is that anesthesia errors can occur before you even receive your dose. Because anesthesia must be prepared, errors can happen before, during, and after a medical operation or procedure.
Here is a look at some anesthesia mistakes that may happen before an operation:
- Not educating a patient about the possible risks and complications of anesthesia prior to their procedure
- Failure to review a patient’s medical history thoroughly and missing potential complications
- Lack of instructions for the patient on how to prepare prior to their operation, such as directions on when to fast or what not to eat
Here are mistakes the occur during a procedure:
- Delay in anesthesia administration
- Providing too little or too much anesthesia for the procedure
- Administering the wrong type of anesthesia
- Failure to monitor the vital signs of the patient during the procedure
- Using faulty or defective equipment during the operation or to provide anesthesia
- Failure to identify or handle complications in a timely manner
- Improper insertion of intubation tube
- Failure to monitor or to provide oxygen
- One or several members of the medical team were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the procedure
Lastly, here are post-surgery anesthesia errors:
- Anesthetized patient was left unattended for a period of time
- Patient was left sedated for too long
- Medical staff failed to provide post-operative instructions
Complications and Injuries Related to Anesthesia Errors
Although anesthesia is used in many modern surgical practices to keep patients from feeling pain and discomfort, it does have its own perils. When a medical professional makes a mistake or is negligent in some way, there is a risk of anesthesia errors occurring. Here is a look at what encompasses anesthesia errors:
- Excessive preoperative pain
- Injuries during intubation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Delirium and confusion
- Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)
- Nerve damage
- Respiratory issues
- Heart attack
- Brain damage
- Blood clots
Some mistakes lead to far more egregious injuries. Let’s take a look at some of the most problematic effects of anesthesia errors:
Anesthesia Dosage Error
Anesthesia dosage errors are prevalent and result in a long list of complications. These errors often transpire as the result of too much or too little anesthesia. How does this happen? Some factors include a provider’s lack of clinical experience, inadequate monitoring, neglecting to review a patient’s medical history, carelessness, and unfamiliarity with the equipment.
Insufficient Anesthesia Dosage
Administering anesthesia below the requisite threshold may result in what is called “anesthesia awareness.” This phenomenon, often deemed a traumatic ordeal, arises when patients regain partial consciousness during a surgical procedure. While the effects of anesthesia render them incapable of movement or vocalization, their cognitive faculties remain intact. This bewildering state exposes them to sensory perceptions, including pressure and pain, an experience that lingers and may result in trauma, anxiety, and depression.
Excessive Anesthesia Dosage
When too much anesthesia is given to a patient, the consequences may be dire. Patients may experience hypothermia, hallucinations, nausea or vomiting, seizures, strokes, dementia, prolonged unconsciousness, brain injuries, and, in the gravest instances, fatalities.
Failure to Monitor Common Side Effects and Vitals
Anesthesiologists shoulder a formidable responsibility in ensuring patient safety throughout the surgical process. This duty encompasses vigilant monitoring of patients under anesthesia, encompassing the central nervous system, respiratory system, and cardiovascular system. These vital systems, when under the influence of anesthesia, may exhibit variations in the patient’s vital signs and give rise to a spectrum of side effects.
For this reason, a patient must be monitored continuously. Should a patient’s body temperature or blood oxygen level, for example, fluctuate too wildly under the influence of anesthesia, it is up to the anesthesiologist to intervene and ensure the patient receives the proper care. The failure to perform such monitoring, when warranted, can substantiate a compelling basis for medical malpractice claims against the attending anesthesiologist.
Moreover, it is crucial to acknowledge that anesthesia-related side effects typically manifest when the patient regains consciousness. Although many of these side effects resolve with time, diligent observation remains paramount. These common side effects encompass dizziness, difficulties in urination, nausea, vomiting, confusion, memory lapses, shivering due to diminished body temperature, sore throats attributed to intubation, as well as bruising or soreness arising from intravenous access. Any negligence in monitoring such side effects may constitute grounds for pursuing medical malpractice litigation.
Administration of Wrong Anesthesia Type
The gravity of medical errors is nowhere more conspicuous than when the wrong type of anesthesia is administered. There are a number of reasons why this could happen, though none of them is an excuse for the consequences that occur. Misleading drug labels, drug similarities, inadvertent syringe and ampoule swaps, mislabeling or missing labels, and so on can cause the wrong kind of anesthesia to be delivered.
Unfortunately, when the wrong kind of anesthesia is given, it could lead to a patient being aware during a painful procedure. Sometimes, the administration of the wrong anesthesia type can even lead to a patient’s demise.
What Can You Do After Experiencing an Anesthesia Error?
Experiencing an anesthesia error can be traumatic and life-altering, leaving patients with various complications and injuries. To address the aftermath of such an error, individuals can take different actions based on the nature and severity of the consequences. Two primary courses of action are:
- Hiring a medical malpractice lawyer to pursue settlement or a trial
- Filing a wrongful death lawsuit
Let’s examine these options in greater detail:
Brain Injury and Other Effects: Hire a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
When an anesthesia error results in significant harm, such as a brain injury or other debilitating effects, it’s often advisable to retain the services of a qualified medical malpractice lawyer. Here’s what you can expect when hiring a medical malpractice attorney:
- Case Evaluation: A medical malpractice lawyer will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of your case. This involves scrutinizing medical records, consulting with medical experts, and gathering evidence to determine if medical malpractice occurred. They assess the standard of care, any deviation from it, and establish a causal link between the anesthesia error and your injury.
- Expert Witnesses: Medical malpractice cases often require expert testimony. Your attorney will identify and engage expert witnesses who can provide critical insights into the standard of care in the anesthesia field, the deviation from this standard, and how the error directly caused your injury.
- Negotiation: Your attorney will negotiate on your behalf with insurance companies and the healthcare providers involved. They aim to secure a fair settlement that encompasses medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any long-term care or rehabilitation costs linked to your injury.
- Litigation: If negotiations fail to yield a satisfactory settlement, your attorney is prepared to take your case to court. In litigation, they will present your case, cross-examine witnesses, and passionately advocate for your rights in a court of law.
Fatal Errors: File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In cases where an anesthesia error leads to the tragic loss of a loved one, you may have grounds to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. It’s essential to understand the key elements involved in this legal recourse:
- Duty of Care: To establish a wrongful death claim, you must prove that the healthcare providers involved owed the deceased a duty of care, which is a standard obligation to provide safe and competent medical treatment.
- Breach of Duty: You need to demonstrate that the actions or inactions of the medical professionals constituted a breach of their duty of care. This often requires showing that another anesthesiologist or healthcare provider with similar expertise and experience would have acted differently.
- Causation: Establish a direct link between the negligent actions and the death of your loved one. It’s not enough to prove negligence; it must be the direct cause of the patient’s demise.
Understanding the Damages in Anesthesia Error Cases
Depending on the route you take and the recompense that you seek, you may be awarded for the following damages:
- Medical Expenses: This covers the cost of medical treatments, surgeries, medications, and rehabilitation necessitated by the injury resulting from the anesthesia error.
- Lost Wages: If the injury leads to lost income due to missed work or a reduced earning capacity, you may be eligible to claim compensation for these financial losses.
- Pain and Suffering: Non-economic damages, such as physical pain, emotional distress, and a decreased quality of life, may also be recoverable.
- Long-Term Care Costs: In cases of severe injuries, you may require ongoing medical care or rehabilitation, and the associated expenses can be included in your claim.
- Funeral and Burial Costs: In wrongful death cases, you can seek compensation for funeral and burial expenses to alleviate the financial burden on your family.
It’s essential to consult with a medical malpractice attorney to evaluate your specific case and determine the types of damages you may be entitled to pursue. Legal action can provide a path to justice, accountability, and compensation to alleviate the financial and emotional hardships caused by anesthesia errors.
Contact the Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers of Raynes & Lawn
In the world of modern medicine, anesthesia plays a pivotal role in ensuring that patients receive the care they need with minimal discomfort. However, like any medical intervention, anesthesia is not without its risks. Anesthesia errors, whether arising from dosage miscalculations, monitoring lapses, or the administration of the wrong type, can lead to life-altering consequences. If you or a loved one has suffered due to an anesthesia error, it’s crucial to understand that you are not alone in your journey towards recovery and justice. The first step is to call medical malpractice lawyers in Philadelphia, like those at Raynes & Lawn, for assistance.
At Raynes & Lawn, we understand the immense physical, emotional, and financial toll that anesthesia errors can take on patients and their families. Our team of experienced medical malpractice attorneys is dedicated to fighting for your rights and securing the compensation you deserve. With a deep understanding of the complexities surrounding anesthesia errors, we are committed to helping you find a path to recovery.
Give us a call today at 1-800-535-1797 or fill out the contact form to schedule your free consultation.
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