Human error leading cause of anesthesiology problems
The type and amount of medication an anesthesiologist uses for pain management or surgery is subjective, based upon the unique needs of the patient. No one responds exactly the same way and a miscalculation can mean oxygen deprivation, brain injury or death.
While this area of medicine has improved greatly in recent years, medical negligence and human error in the use of anesthetics still occurs. From medication mistakes to airway management problems, human error plays a role in anesthesia-related deaths.
Anesthesiologists and anesthetists perform several important functions, including monitoring a patient's vital signs (blood pressure and heart rate), evaluating blood loss and urine output and adjusting medication levels and IV fluids. The patient's life is, in a very real sense, in their hands.
Studies into the causes of anesthesia-related deaths and injuries have identified four types of common error:
- Procedural errors such as misplaced breathing tubes (in the esophagus rather than the trachea) and unintentional or premature tube removal, incorrect IV lines or airway management problems
- Breathing errors such as hypoventilation (insufficient breathing), breathing circuit leaks or disconnection and IV line disconnection
- Technical errors such as failure of equipment, loss of gas supply or gas flow control problems
- Drug errors such as incorrect drug choice or drug overdose
When examining why these errors occurred, researchers found that a failure to check was the most common cause, followed by a lack of experience and unfamiliarity with the situation or the method being used. Carelessness and haste were also high on the list, along with distractions, other activities taking place at the same time and even fatigue.
Reducing anesthesia errors and other types of medical malpractice requires a commitment from every member of the medical team, including hospital administration. To minimize the risk of anesthesia errors, medical professionals have used procedural checklists, equipment inspections and other strategies.
Hospitals can act to minimize the risks of medical error as well. The Boston Globe recently reported that when hospitals in Massachusetts began using electronic monitoring systems, they saw a dramatic reduction in anesthesia-related deaths, from one in 10,000 to one in 200,000. Electronic monitors detect the presence of carbon dioxide in the patient's lungs and any irregularities in blood oxygen levels. While expensive, this equipment clearly saves lives. A Houston anesthesia errors lawyer can make sure victims of medical malpractice receive just compensation.