Study Reveals Startling Increase in Medical Errors
A recent study from Johns Hopkins puts the number of deaths from medical errors every year in the United States at more than 250,000. Other reports estimate the numbers may be as high as 440,000. After heart disease and cancer, medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. A comprehensive review of 28 published studies based on operating room errors concludes that preoperative surgical checklists could reduce that error rate by half.
Surgical errors have received a lot of the scrutiny, and the studies reviewed varied as to type of equipment and the nature of the surgery. The results show an average of approximately 15 errors occurred during a typical operation, with equipment failure accounting for 24% of these errors. Overall, it was found that the rates of error were higher the more heavily a surgery relied on technology. Despite these findings, technological advances have improved the quality of surgery available and increased patients’ chances of survival. The authors of the study note, however, that technology raises the complexity of surgeries and therefore may cause an increased risk of error due to equipment failure.
Robotic Surgery Focus of Scrutiny
One such example is the use of robotic surgery, increasingly popular as a less invasive option to traditional surgery. In particular, the da Vinci surgical robot from Intuitive Surgical, the only robotic technology cleared by the FDA for soft tissue surgery, has been the subject of 26 lawsuits after several deaths and injuries following surgery with the device.
According to the FDA’s investigation, surgeons operating the robot were at fault in some cases, resulting in punctured bladders, severed nerves and blood vessels. In other cases, the da Vinci surgical robot appears to have malfunctioned on its own, inexplicably cauterizing a fallopian tube, damaging heart tissue, or failing to let go of a patient’s tissue with its grasper.
Some Medical Professionals Question Safety Claims
While some doctors feel robotic surgery is safe when those operating the device receive the proper training, others would like to see more research on the claims that robotic surgery is safer than conventional surgery. These sentiments are in line with the survey findings that show performing equipment checks before surgeries, using briefing tools and conducting staff training programs reduced error rates by 50%.
Researchers recommend that a generic equipment checklist be a routine practice and be included in the current World Health Organization Surgical Safety Checklist.
Previous research suggests that medical errors affect up to 16% of hospital patients, half of which are associated with surgery. If you or a loved one suffered a serious complication following a surgical procedure, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. If lack of training or negligence caused the injury, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.
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