About half of surgeries involve medication errors, study finds

If you are like most people, you are already aware that surgeons occasionally make errors. However, since many surgeries are performed without incident, you may think that your chances of experiencing a surgical error are quite low. Unfortunately, a recently released study found this is often not the case when it comes to receiving the correct medication during surgery.

Half of surgeries have medication errors

The study's results were released during an anesthesiology conference last month. In the study, researchers found that almost half of the surgeries at a major hospital in Massachusetts involved a medication error of some sort.

During the course of the study, the researchers analyzed 277 surgeries that were performed at Massachusetts General Hospital during 2013 and 2014. This particular hospital was chosen, because it is considered a leader in implementing safeguards to prevent medication errors. Shockingly, despite the safeguards in place, surgeons at the hospital made medication errors in 124 of the 277 surgeries performed. The errors included:

• Improper or incorrect labeling of the medication

• Administering the wrong dosage

• Failing to document the drug used or the dosage

Failing to monitor and respond to changes in patient's vital signs during the operation

All in all, during the 277 surgeries, a total of 3,675 medications were used. According to the study, researchers identified 193 separate adverse drug events and medication errors that occurred in the 124 separate surgical procedures. Unfortunately, these errors were completely preventable in 80 percent of the cases, according to the researchers.

Of the medication errors made, most were not insignificant. According to the study, 66 percent of the errors were classified as "serious." Two percent of the errors made were considered life threatening (however, no patient died because of the error during the study). The study's researchers considered the remaining errors to be "serious" in nature.

Why are surgical patients prone to medication errors?

The authors of the study hypothesized that the high-pressure environment of surgery contributes to the high number of medication errors. The authors noted that during many surgeries (especially emergency surgeries), medication checklists and other safety protocols are relaxed or ignored. Although this may allow for medical staff to take quicker actions, as the study indicates, patient safety is clearly adversely affected as a result.

Based on the study's results, the authors also speculate that the rate of medication errors during surgery is just as high at other hospitals nationwide. However, since Massachusetts General had established protocols in place to reduce this type of error, the authors concluded that the rate of such errors at other hospitals that likely have fewer safeguards in place may be higher.

Speak to an attorney if injured

If you or a loved one were injured following a medication error, it is wise to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. An attorney can investigate the circumstances surrounding the error, determine whether malpractice was to blame and ensure you receive fair and adequate compensation for your injuries.