When a patient undergoes a surgical procedure, anesthesiologists often place the patient in an unconscious or semi-conscious state through drugs, medications and gasses. Anesthesiologists have tremendous responsibility for not only keeping a patient sedated during surgery but also managing their vital signs and oxygenation. They often may be primarily responsible for the patient's care immediately after surgery. Anesthesia errors can occur during surgery, but most are recognized and corrected so patients rarely, if ever, learn about them. Anesthesia errors can, however, lead to disastrous consequences. It is only after a patient dies, or a serious problem is identified following surgery, that a patient or family learns about an anesthesia problem. Since most anesthesiologists meet the patient or family only briefly before the surgery, there is little opportunity for a patient or family to check the credentials or background of the most important person for any surgery. Rarely do patients understand the role and obligations of the anesthesiologist, during surgery or afterward in the post-operative recovery room (PACU). Many patients will successfully survive surgery only to develop a serious problem in the post-anesthesia recovery room where the surgeon often defers the patient's care to the anesthesiologist for all evaluation and management decisions.
Here are some common anesthesia mistakes resulting from medical negligence or malpractice:
- Failure to intubate or injuries caused during intubation: Anesthesiologists will often intubate a patient during surgery in order to help them breath safely. When an anesthesiologist makes an error during intubation or fails to maintain a proper airway, serious injury can result.
- Failure to monitor: Anesthesiologists are responsible for regulating not only a patient's level of consciousness during the procedure but also their oxygenation, among other vital responsibilities.
- Failure to fulfill these essential duties can lead to serious brain injury or death.
- Communication errors before, during or after the procedure. Anesthesiologists are required to keep those performing surgery informed of the patient's condition, including his or her vital signs. Failure to properly communicate can lead to serious complications or injury.
- Errors in anesthesia dosage: A dosage error can happen if an anesthesiologist gives too much or too little anesthesia. Too much anesthesia can result in dangerously prolonged sedation leading to coma or brain injury.
- Too little anesthesia can lead to a condition known as anesthesia awareness, where the patient wakes up during the surgery itself. This can lead to a horrifying experience, where the patient, often paralyzed and unable to speak, is aware of what is happening and experiencing the extreme pain of surgery. According to a study in Anesthesia & Analgesia, nearly one-half of patients who experienced anesthesia awareness heard conversations in the operating room, and half felt as though they could not breathe. Twenty-eight percent felt the actual pain of surgery. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations states that 21,000 to 42,000 Americans experience anesthesia awareness each year.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to an anesthesia error, you could have a medical malpractice or negligence claim. Please contact our office to discuss the details.