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Study: Medication Errors Occur Before, During, and After Surgery

Feb 4, 2016 Brown Moore Medical Malpractice

Patients can practice any number of safety measures when doctors prescribe medication. When they head into the operating room, they must rely on medical staff to take control of their medication needs. Since medication needs can change in an instant immediately before, during, and after surgery (known as the perioperative process), this critical time has a notably increased risk of medication errors. Our Charlotte medical malpractice lawyers explain that patients can still take certain steps to help protect their safety during these times.

National Patient Safety Leader Finds Significant Medication Errors During Perioperative Phase

Massachusetts General Hospital is nationally recognized as a leader in patient safety because of the measures it has taken to reduce many types of common medical errors. During a recent study of 277 operations, however, the hospital discovered that just over 1 in 20 perioperative medication administrations resulted in a medication error or an adverse drug event. The study team expressed concern that other medical facilities that do not have similar safety records might have even higher rates of serious perioperative medication errors.

The study, which analyzed surgical events from the time patients arrived in a pre-operative area until they went into recovery or intensive care, found that about 80 percent of drug errors were preventable. The primary errors were the following:

  • Labeling errors
  • Incorrect dosage
  • Neglect in treatment based on patients’ vital signs

While none of the errors they found were fatal, 30 percent were considered significant, 69 percent serious and less than 2 percent were life-threatening, in spite of many safety measures that were already in place. The study notes, however, that many safeguards that the hospital uses in other settings have not yet found their way to the perioperative process — and there is clearly room for improvement.

How Patients Can Help Reduce Medication Errors Within the Surgical Process

Clearly, surgical patients have virtually no control of what happens during the perioperative process, but they can communicate concerns before surgery in a number of ways:

  • Rather than counting on existing medical records, verbally discuss any known medication allergies or other reactions with the primary care physician, the surgeon, and the anesthesiologist.
  • Try to meet the surgeon and anesthesiologist to establish a personal connection, express concerns about medication errors, and ask what safeguards are in place to reduce the risks.
  • Make sure a relative or close friend is noticeably present before, during, and after surgery to get updates, final outcome, and instructions throughout the process.

Keep in mind that medication or other errors do not automatically represent cases of medical malpractice. Doctors can find any number of unexpected conditions during surgery in spite of following proper procedures and protocols. Still, when patients believe they may have suffered adverse results caused by needless medical errors, they need to consult with attorneys who understand complex medical and legal issues. For a knowledgeable assessment, call us at 800-948-0577 or use our convenient online contact form.