Why are surgical errors so common?

A surgeon team performing an operationIn one of the most medically advanced countries in the world, surgical errors occur at a surprising rate. The Journal of Patient Safety reports that medical errors kill at least 200,000 people in the U.S. each year. Over a 20-year period, these errors amounted to more than $1.3 billion in paid medical malpractice lawsuits. According to Johns Hopkins University, surgical never events , or preventable medical errors where surgeons leave foreign objects behind in a patient’s surgical site, are estimated to occur at least 4,044 times annually across the country.

With advanced medical procedures and surgical techniques being implemented in operating rooms across the nation, people are left wondering why these egregious surgical errors continue to occur at an alarming rate.

One such incident occurred when a 13-year-old girl went in for a routine tonsillectomy and ended up on life support. According to a CNN News report, the young girl was in otherwise good condition and had no health or medical issues. After the surgery was completed, the girl began bleeding from her nose and mouth before quickly going into cardiac arrest. She was declared brain dead and put on life support, as her parents struggled to understand what went wrong.

Possible reasons for surgical errors

It is hard to identify exactly why deadly surgical errors are so common in the United States. Johns Hopkins University reports that ineffective operating room techniques may be to blame. Operating room processes used to account for surgical equipment before and after a procedure as well as negligent surgical staff, have led to the retention of foreign objects within a patient’s surgical site. Changes in OR staff throughout the procedure and poor staff training have also been linked to these errors.

The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that there are approximately 954,000 doctors in the United States. When taking into consideration the increasing number of aging baby boomers in the nation, this presents an estimated shortage of physicians by nearly 150,000. Some suggest that the high workload forced on surgeons may result in fatigue and an increased likelihood that a mistake might be made.

One small baby had a medical condition, which required her to have a chest tube in her vein and a feeding tube leading to her stomach, according to a CNN News report. The medical daycare unintentionally used the baby’s chest tube when administering her medication rather than her stomach tube. This unfortunate incident caused the baby to die when the medication stopped her heart.

Although there are factors to consider, including individual differences in the way patients respond to various treatments, many common causes of surgical errors are completely preventable. Researchers continue to study the causes of medical mistakes and hope to decrease their occurrence in operating rooms nationwide.