Anesthesia-related medical errors can have disastrous effects. Mistakes can be caused by a number of factors, from dosing errors to staff miscommunication or even poor training. Any slip-up on the part of the anesthesiologist or medical staff can potentially cause lasting and irreversible brain damage, PTSD or death. But how often do anesthesia errors actually occur?
This has been a question of much debate over the years, as statistics from different studies show conflicting evidence. For instance, in 1999, the Institute of Medicine published a report indicating that only 1 in about 200-300,000 patients receiving anesthesia will die as a result. The committee claimed that anesthesia error rates had taken a sharp decline since the 1980s, citing information that put deaths from anesthesia closer to 1 in every 5,000 at that time. So, those statistics appear to show that the risk in anesthesia is not that great.
Delving deeper into this statistic, however, we find that belief in these numbers is not unanimous within the medical community. In 2002, Dr. Robert S. Lagasse, an anesthesiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, addressed the notion that errors are in decline with a study of his own.
Lagasse published an article in Anesthesiology, a respected journal within the field, challenging the Institute of Medicines findings. Lagasse said that the incidence of deaths associated with anesthesiology mistakes is closer to 1 in every 532.
Lagasse reached this conclusion after studying the data from two academic New York hospitals recorded from 1992 and 1999. He utilized a definition of mortality to refer to any death occurring with 48 hours after the patient was discharged from surgery. Using this definition, Lagasse found 351 deaths had occurred at these hospitals out of 184,472 operations. Thus, the average rate of death was much higher than that previously reported.
However, death is not the only concern for patients. Another disturbing error comes in the form of anesthesia awareness. During anesthesia awareness, the patients brain is active while their body is affected by the drug; this means they may be awake enough to see, hear and feel what is happening on the operating table but not have the physical ability to move or voice their experience to surgeons.
This is a severely traumatizing event that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia and continued mental anguish. According to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, approximately 21,000 to 42,000 surgical patients experience anesthesia awareness each year.
This information gives us an idea of how common anesthesiology mistakes can be, but it is not the entire story. Mistakes may go unreported, and patients cannot predict whether they will suffer at the hands of an unskilled surgeon or technician during their own operation.
Did you or a loved one suffer through an anesthesia error? You deserve to be compensated whether you were injured or lost a loved one because of medical negligence, there is help.
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