Study: Medical professionals may make drug errors in half of surgeries

According to a new study, drug errors may occur during as many as half of all surgeries, and error rates may be even higher in hospitals here in Iowa.

Hospitals in Des Moines typically employ numerous protocols to reduce the risk of errors during surgery. However, a study that was recently published in the journal Anesthesiology suggests that patients still may be at risk for medication errors or adverse drug reactions during about half of all surgical procedures. According to Bloomberg, this research indicates that most of these errors are preventable. Just as troublingly, every error observed during this study had the potential to cause patients harm.

Tracking surgical drug errors

During the study, researchers observed more than 277 procedures that were performed at Massachusetts General Hospital. This study diverged from past research by using the results of direct observations, rather than reports from medical professionals. As a result, the study pointed to a much higher rate of prescription drug errors during surgery than previous research has.

The researchers found that drug errors occurred about one in 20 times that medications were administered during surgery, according to CBS News. If a procedure extended longer than six hours, errors were more likely to occur. The following errors were some of the most frequently observed ones:

  • Administration of an incorrect dosage
  • Improper labeling of the medication or documentation of the administration
  • Failure to note a patient's vital signs and administer medication accordingly

Troublingly, the researchers also found that four out of five of the observed errors could have been prevented. Although not every error caused harm to patients, every one had the potential to do so, and a few mistakes even qualified as life threatening.

Assessing the risk to patients

As the study's researchers note, the nature of the operating room environment may promote a high rate of drug errors during surgery. Surgeons, anesthesiologists and other medical professionals must make rapid decisions during operations, and safety protocols that are observed in other care settings may not be followed. Troublingly, as CBS News notes, drug error rates may be even higher at many hospitals, since Massachusetts General Hospital is known for its patient safety initiatives.

Sadly, drug errors and other unnecessary medical mistakes harm many people in Iowa each year. According to The Des Moines Register, medical errors affect as many as 85,000 people in the state each year. These mistakes additionally claim the lives of 2,444 patients per year. Considering these high reported rates of serious errors, it's important for patients in Iowa to understand their rights after these mistakes.

If a medication error or other mistake represents a lapse in an acceptable standard of medical care, victims may have legal recourse. However, in Iowa, injury victims must complete their claims within two years of the date that the error occurred. To learn more about the relevant laws and requirements, victims may benefit from discussing the situation with a medical malpractice attorney.