Understanding and Preventing Anesthesia Errors in Healthcare November 22, 2023.

Understanding and Preventing Anesthesia Errors in Healthcare

Each year over 40 million Americans go under anesthesia for various medical procedures. Anesthesia is relatively safe for most people, but complications and errors still occur. In a 7 year study, conducted from 2007-2014, there were a total of 17,116 anesthesia errors in the United States. A majority of these errors were preventable.

Types of Anesthesia

Anesthesia is a drug given to patients before a medical procedure to prevent pain. Different types of anesthesia can be used, depending on what the procedure is. Minor operations do not require anesthesia that makes the patient fall asleep. Instead, anesthesiologists use a different type of anesthetic that numbs a specific area. 

Anesthesiologists have a very important job before, during, and after medical procedures. They are the medical doctors who specialize in administering anesthesia. Anesthesiologists are also in charge of monitoring the patient's vitals, giving fluids/ blood as needed, and giving medications to the patient.

General Anesthesia

General anesthesia is used for major operations such as heart surgery or brain surgery. It makes the patient “fall asleep” or lose consciousness. When the patient wakes up they will not be able to remember the pain. General anesthesia is administered through a mask or by an IV in a vein in the hand or arm. 

Regional Anesthesia

Regional anesthesia is used to numb a large part of the body. There are two types of regional anesthesia: epidural and spinal anesthesia.

Epidural is given to relieve pain during labor and birth. It numbs the section of the body from the belly button to the upper legs. Epidural is injected into the epidural space, which is a sac of fluid that surrounds your spinal cord.

Spinal anesthesia differs because it numbs the patient's entire lower body below the waist. Anesthesiologists inject the anesthetic into the fluid that surrounds the patient's spinal cord. It is used for procedures such as hip or knee replacement, leg surgery, or foot surgery. 

Local Anesthesia

Local anesthesia is used for minor procedures. Instead of numbing the entire body, it is injected or put onto a specific area, which will make that area go numb. Procedures that use local anesthesia include wisdom teeth removal, biopsies, stitches, or mole removal.

Anesthesia Errors

If you or a loved one experienced an anesthesia error, then you may be able to receive compensation for the injuries sustained. 

Anesthesia errors include:

  • Too much anesthesia
  • Too little anesthesia
  • Prolonged sedation
  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Failure to monitor the patient
  • Failure to inform the patient
  • Failure to respond to complications
  • Intubation error

The Mental and Physical Impact of Anesthesia Errors

Physical impact 

Many injuries or negative outcomes can occur if medical professionals are negligent while their patient is under anesthesia.

These negative outcomes include:

  • Death
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Brain damage
  • Anaphylaxis
    • A severe allergic reaction to medications given during the procedure
  • Tooth damage

Mental Impact

Medical malpractice does not only affect the victim’s physical health, it can also impact their mental health. Medical errors leave countless patients with severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. Many victims have to start taking antidepressants, anxiety medication or may even need extensive therapy. These mental health issues can leave a person disabled, unable to work, and unable to do the activities they once loved. 

A complication that can greatly affect a patient mentally is anesthesia awareness. Anesthesia awareness is when a patient wakes up during surgery. This occurs when too little anesthesia is administered. Even though the patient is awake, they are unable to move so they can not alert anyone. Most victims can hear what is being said, and feel pressure from the operation. In rare cases, victims can feel severe pain from the procedure, which can cause debilitating mental health issues.

Anesthesia Error Prevention

Preventing anesthesia errors is the responsibility of the medical professionals who are taking care of the patient while they are under. They should always be up to date on safety protocols and risk management. Medical proffesionals should also have updated medical records for the patient so they will know their current medications, known allergies, and other important medical information.

When you are talking to the medical professionals about your procedure, they should give you all the information you will need to know. But, you can ask them questions about the anesthetic you will be receiving, if you would feel more comfortable.

If the doctor does not give you information about anesthesia and its risk factors be sure to ask questions such as:

  • What medications will I be given while I'm under anesthesia?
  • What type of anesthesia will I be given?
  • What are the risk factors for anesthesia errors?
  • Am I at a high risk for complications?

You can do your part to prevent some errors by being fully honest with your provider. If you have a habit of drinking or smoking, let your provider know so they can give you instructions on when you have to stop. This may also change the dosage you will need, so it is very important to be truthful about drug/ alcohol habits. The doctors should also ask if you are pregnant, or may be pregnant. Going under anesthesia while pregnant could harm the unborn baby, so even if there is a chance you are pregnant, tell your doctor.

Are Anesthesia Errors Medical Malpractice?

Anesthesia errors that cause significant injuries or death are considered medical malpractice. Medical malpractice is when a medical professional is negligent, or irresponsible which causes harm to the patient. 

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Anesthesia Errors?

There is a time limit to file any legal case, this is referred to as the statute of limitations (SOL). In Ohio, the SOL for medical malpractice claims is 1 year. This means from the day the medical malpractice occurred, the victim will have 1 year to file a claim against the healthcare facility or medical professionals. It is important to talk to an attorney as soon as the medical malpractice occurs, so the statute of limitations does not run out.

Who Is Liable for Anesthesia Errors?

Several people are responsible for the patient while they are getting a procedure done. All of the medical professionals who were present during the operation could be found liable for medical malpractice. This could include the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses.

Contact Our Anesthesia Error Attorneys

If a medical professional was negligent during a procedure that caused injuries or death, then you may be able to sue for medical malpractice. Medical malpractice cases are extremely complex and detail-oriented. These cases require an experienced medical malpractice attorney that is able to dig below the surface.

At The Mellino Law Firm, we have almost 40 years of experience with medical malpractice cases. We have received record-setting settlements and verdicts against all hospitals in the Cleveland area. If you want to see what our firm can do for you, please contact our office at (440) 333-3800.