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Study Highlights Prevalence Of Medication Errors During Surgery

A new study suggests serious or preventable medication errors occur in about half of surgeries; many may occur when proper safety protocols aren’t observed.

During most surgical procedures, patients receive multiple medications to maintain healthy vital signs or prevent other complications. Unfortunately, a recent study suggests that it's not uncommon for medical professionals to make potentially dangerous mistakes when providing these medications. In fact, the study indicates that such errors may occur during nearly one out of two surgical procedures performed in Panama City.

Just How Common Are Errors?

The study's researchers observed 3,675 medication administrations performed over the course of 277 surgical procedures at Massachusetts General Hospital, according to CBS News. Altogether, the researchers documented 193 medication errors or adverse drug reactions. Although this may seem like a low proportion of errors, it translated to a mistake or adverse event during 124 of the 277 procedures.

It's important to note that this is a significantly higher rate of surgical medication errors than medical professionals have self-reported in other studies. Furthermore, this alarming error rate may be lower than what occurs in other hospitals, since MGH ranks among the best hospitals in the U.S. in terms of patient safety initiatives.

Are These Mistakes Dangerous?

The majority of the observed errors were not considered life-threatening, according to CBS News, although they were all considered "significant" or "serious." The following mistakes were among the most common:

  • Improper labeling of medications
  • Administration of an incorrect dose
  • Improper recording of a drug administration
  • Failure to administer appropriate medication based on a patient's vital signs

Some of the errors that the researchers witnessed could not have been prevented. For example, some patients suffered from previously undiscovered drug allergies and experienced adverse drug reactions as a result. However, the researchers found that roughly four out of five of the mistakes were preventable.

Why Do These Errors Occur?

The study's authors suggest that the urgent nature of the surgical operating environment may put patients at greater risk for medication errors. In other parts of the hospital, medical professionals may follow strict protocols when prescribing and administering medications. Redundant precautions during these protocols may greatly reduce the risk of errors. During surgery, when medications often must be administered quickly, many time-consuming safety protocols may be set aside.

Do Medication Errors Constitute Malpractice?

Harmful medication errors that could not reasonably have been avoided do not represent malpractice. However, if a medical professional violates safety protocols or makes misjudgments that a competent peer would not, an error might be considered malpractice. If this is the case, victims may be able to seek damages for any injuries or other harm they suffered.

Making a medical malpractice claim can be challenging in Florida. Under the Florida statutes, victims must show that a medical professional was negligent and that this led directly to the victim's injuries. Victims also must have a medical expert review the case and assert its validity before they formally file a claim. To reduce the risk of missteps during this process, victims may benefit from consulting with a medical malpractice attorney for advice and other assistance.