Study suggests risk of needless medication errors is high during surgery

A new study suggests that medication errors may occur in up to half of all surgeries, and four out of five of these errors may be preventable.

Over the course of inpatient treatment, people who have been admitted to hospitals in West Des Moines may receive a variety of prescription medications. Since errors with these medications may cause critical or deadly complications, most hospitals observe numerous protocols designed to prevent mistakes. Unfortunately, though, such errors may still occur frequently in certain inpatient care settings.

A recent observational study suggests that the operating room is one such setting. If the study findings are a reliable indicator, roughly half of all surgical procedures may involve potentially dangerous medication errors, most of which are preventable.

High error frequency

Bloomberg reports that the study was conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital, a facility that is widely recognized for its safety record. The researchers observed 277 surgeries and thousands of medication administrations that occurred over the course of those procedures. The rate of medication errors that the researchers witnessed was much higher than the rate reported in previous studies, which relied on doctors to self-report their errors. The reported error rates were as follows:

  • Overall, physicians made mistakes during about one in 20 medication administrations.
  • Since multiple administrations occurred during most surgeries, this amounted to one mistake during nearly every other procedure.
  • Mistakes were significantly more common during longer procedures that lasted upwards of six hours.

According to Bloomberg, the nature and severity of the observed errors varied. Some of the most common mistakes involved issues with the dosage, the choice of drug or the labeling of the medication. Although every mistake had the potential to cause harm to the patient, only three were ultimately deemed life threatening. Troublingly, 80 percent of these errors were classified as preventable surgical errors.

Physicians may be liable

When patients suffer injuries or other complications due to medication errors, they may be able to hold the responsible medical professionals liable. However, victims must show that a competent professional would not have made a similar error in the same situation. Recourse may not be available if a person suffered harm from an error that could not reasonably have been prevented, such as an adverse reaction involving an unknown drug allergy.

In Iowa, the victims of prescription errors and other forms of medical malpractice have a limited amount of time to seek legal recourse. Typically, the state's statute of limitations for wrongful injury claims is two years, unless the victim was mentally disabled at the time of the incident. To ensure that a claim can be filed within this timeframe, victims may benefit from consulting with an attorney for advice on documenting the injury and completing the claim.