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Study Sheds Light on High Rate of Drug Errors During Surgery

People who undergo surgery face an alarmingly high risk of becoming victims of medication errors or unintended side effects, according to a recent study that suggests hospitals must do more to protect patients.

In fact, the study finds that such mistakes occur in roughly half of all surgeries.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital's anesthesiology department calculated the rate after observing 277 procedures at the facility, according to a press release posted on massgeneral.org.

Researchers found that 124 of the 277 observed operations included at least one medication error or adverse drug event, according to Mass. General.

What were the observed type of errors?

  • Mistakes in labeling
  • Incorrect dosage
  • Neglecting to treat a problem indicated by the patient's vital signs
  • Documentation errors

Researchers noted that 30 percent of all the adverse drug events were considered significant, 69 percent serious and less than 2 percent were considered life-threatening. The drug errors and unintended side effects were more common during procedures that lasted more than six hours and involving 13 or more medication administrations, according to the news release.

According to the journal Anesthesiology, which published the study, more than one third of the observed errors resulted in some kind of harm to the patient. "There is a substantial potential for medication-related harm and a number of opportunities to improve safety," researchers concluded.

Medical Errors a Top Cause of Death for Americans

Our experienced New York medical malpractice attorneys know that medical errors have long been identified as a leading cause of death. More Americans die from mistakes made by medical professionals each year than in car accidents. How many? At least 44,000 people and possibly as many as 98,000 people, according to a 1999 Institute of Medicine report that put a spotlight on the problem. The 1999 report appears to have resulted in positive changes.

For example, hospitals added simple checklists to avoid operating on the wrong side of the body. Healthcare providers changed over to electronic prescribing systems to warn physicians of potential errors.

According to a Bloomberg News story about the drug error study, medication administered during surgery lacks the same safeguards that other medications have.

Bloomberg News quoted an anesthesiologist at Mass. General: "In the operating room, things happen very rapidly, and patients' conditions change quickly, so we don't have time to go through that whole process, which can take hours."

In the wake of this study examining potentially fatal problems during surgery, we can only hope that hospitals in New York and across the nation take a closer look at how they treat patients in the operating room. This important research should bring needed attention to the problem of drug errors during surgery.

After all, you or someone you love will undergo surgery at some point. Are you willing to accept the fact that you have about a 50-50 chance of being a victim of a drug error?

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