Surgical errors in Illinois: Why they happen and how to prevent them

Surgical errors are more common than you might think, but they are often entirely preventable.

Even the most basic surgical procedure in Illinois creates an opportunity for something to go wrong. Of course, thousands of procedures take place every day across the country without incident. However, when physicians and medical staff are careless, the results could be devastating. Here, we take a look at the basics of surgical errors as well as how patients can keep themselves as safe as possible.

What is a surgical error?

Any number of mistakes could happen during a surgery, but the most studied and common are those that involve the following:

  • Operating on the wrong body part
  • Conducting the wrong procedure on a patient
  • Conducting a procedure on the wrong patient

These are termed "never-events" because they are incidents that should never happen. Other common mistakes include leaving an item, like a surgical sponge, inside the patient. Medical negligence during surgery could also involve the improper administration of medications or failing to act in a timely manner when the procedure does not go as planned.

How common are surgical errors?

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that never-events occur in about one in every 112,000 procedures conducted in the operating room. This does not account for surgeries that take place elsewhere. The AHRQ states that in those other operations, surgical errors occur approximately 50 percent of the time.

A study from Johns Hopkins Medicine states that 39 times a week, someone in the United States who undergoes surgery has a foreign object - like a sponge - in his or her body after surgery. The study notes that wrong-procedure events and wrong-body part events each happen about 20 times a week.

How can surgical errors be prevented?

The most obvious way for medical providers to prevent a surgical error and the ensuing effects is to ensure physicians and facilities utilize the proper procedural checklists. Double- and triple-checking items such as the patient name, site of surgery and procedure is key to minimizing the risk of a never-event. Taking a moment prior to the operation to review all the information is also critical to preventing an unnecessary injury or death.

Patients themselves should be sure to ask the physician to review all the information. Asking the doctor to mark the spot where the surgery should occur is a smart move. Make sure the medical staff has all the appropriate patient history and allergen information prior to undergoing the procedure.

In the end, it is the responsibility of the medical team to prevent surgical errors. When they do occur, victims have the right to hold the wrongdoers accountable for their actions. Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in Illinois.