Medical professionals swear an oath to keep patients safe, but sometimes, even the most well-intentioned doctors, nurses, and other medical staff make mistakes. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported that around 44,000 to 98,000 hospitalized patients die yearly due to medical errors.
Anesthesia is a dangerous yet necessary medication. It’s designed to put patients into a sleep-like state so they can’t feel physical pain during surgical procedures or other medical treatments. But, if it’s not appropriately administered, anesthesia can lead to severe complications, including brain damage, organ failure, and even death.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of an anesthesia error, you may feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do next. You may be wondering if you have a medical malpractice claim. Here’s what you need to know about anesthesia errors and medical malpractice in New York.
Responsibilities of Medical Professionals in Administering Anesthesia
The medical professional who is responsible for administering anesthesia is called an anesthesiologist. An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who specializes in anesthesia care and administration, pain management, and critical care.
When patients undergo medical procedures such as surgery, the anesthesiologist will put them to sleep and ensure that they stay asleep and numb from the pain during the surgery.
Aside from administering medication, the anesthesiologist is also responsible for monitoring the patient’s blood pressure and vital signs during the surgery and ensuring they are stable. If there are any changes in the patient’s condition, the anesthesiologist will take appropriate action to ensure the successful outcome of the surgery.
The anesthesiologist is not the only medical professional who may be involved in the patient’s medical care before, during, and after a surgical procedure. Other medical professionals, such as surgeons, nurses, and nurse anesthetists, all have parts to play in the process. But, the anesthesiologist is the medical professional primarily responsible for administering anesthesia.
Although anesthesiologists are meticulous with their work, there are still some cases when they fail and commit anesthesia errors. When this happens, it can have devastating consequences for patients.
Different Types of Anesthesia
All types of anesthesia are administered to ensure that the patient does not feel any pain and stays comfortable during surgery or other medical procedures. However, it is essential to note that they have some fundamental differences.
Regional anesthesia affects a specific large body area like the abdomen, arm, or leg. It numbs the nerves in a particular region so the patient will not feel any pain in that area. When administered, the patient will still remain conscious during the procedure. This type of anesthesia is also known as a nerve block. The most common types of regional anesthesia are spinal anesthesia and epidural anesthesia.
Regional anesthesia is often used for childbirth, hernia surgery, and cardiac surgery.
General anesthesia is a medication administered through an IV or inhaled through a mask. This type of anesthesia will render the patient unconscious and unable to feel pain during the surgery.
General anesthesia is often used for major surgeries such as heart transplants, brain surgery, or cancer surgery.
Local anesthesia numbs a specific small body region but does not put the patient to sleep. This type of anesthesia is often used at the dentist’s office or skin clinic.
Most anesthesiologists administer this anesthesia for minor surgeries or medical procedures, such as skin biopsies and stitches for deep cuts.
Conscious Sedation Medication
Conscious sedation medication is designed to help the patient relax while conscious during the medical procedure. It is often used when local anesthesia is not strong enough and general anesthesia is unnecessary.
Conscious sedation medication is often used for minor and less complex surgeries or medical procedures, such as endoscopy, colonoscopy, and MRI.
Different Types of Anesthesia Malpractice
While anesthesia ensures that the patient does not experience extreme pain, high-risk factors always come with it. There is always a chance that there will be anesthesia complications.
Aside from anesthesia risks, medical negligence can also lead to anesthesia errors and complications. These medical errors can cause catastrophic problems, permanent injury, and even death.
Anesthesia malpractice can take many different forms. Here are some of the most common types:
Errors in the Administration of Anesthesia
One of the most common types of anesthesia malpractice is errors in the administration of anesthesia. This can happen when the anesthesiologist fails to properly assess the patient’s history, medical records, and current condition. This error can lead to the anesthesiologist administering the wrong type or dosage of anesthesia. Moreover, the anesthesiologist must assess the patient’s reaction to the anesthetics. If they fail to note an allergic reaction, the blame will fall on their shoulders.
Another common type of anesthesia malpractice is errors in dosing. This can happen when the anesthesiologist miscalculates the amount of anesthesia required for the patient. This error can lead to the patient receiving an excessive or insufficient dosage of anesthesia.
Determining the appropriate amount of anesthesia dosage is very crucial. If too little anesthesia is given, the patient can wake up in the middle of the surgery and experience extreme pain. On the other hand, if too much anesthesia is given, it can lead to organ damage.
Caused by an error in anesthesia dosage, anesthesia awareness is a serious complication that can happen when too little anesthesia is given.
When a patient receives insufficient general anesthesia, the anesthesia could wear off immediately, and the patient can wake up in the middle of the surgery. This occurrence entails excruciating pain for the patient.
Anesthesia awareness can lead to extreme physical and psychological trauma (or post-traumatic stress disorder) for the patient.
Intubation and Extubation Errors
Intubation is the process of placing a breathing tube into the airway through the patient’s mouth. This medical procedure is necessary to help the patient breathe during the surgery. Meanwhile, extubation is the process of removing the breathing tube after the surgery. Both of these procedures are very delicate and require a high skill level.
It is not uncommon for anesthesiologists to perform intubation or extubation on a patient. However, when anesthesiologists fail to properly place the breathing tube or remove it after the surgery, it can lead to cardiac complications.
One of the most common complications arising from intubation and extubation errors is damage to the patient’s vocal cords. This can cause them to have difficulty speaking or even permanently lose their voice. Another complication that can occur is damage to the patient’s airway, which can lead to difficulty breathing or suffocation.
Inadequate Patient Monitoring
One of the anesthesiologist’s responsibilities is to adequately monitor patients before, during, and after the surgical procedure. This includes monitoring patients’ vital signs, heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
Anesthesiologists can sometimes fail to monitor patients properly, which can happen when they are distracted or not paying attention to the monitors.
The anesthesiologist must also communicate with the surgeon and the other medical professionals in the operating room during the surgery. This communication is crucial to ensure that the patient receives the correct amount of anesthesia. If the anesthesiologist fails to communicate with the surgeon, it can lead to severe complications.
Pre-Operative and Post-Operative Errors
Pre-operation errors are another type of anesthesia malpractice. This can happen when the anesthesiologist fails to perform the appropriate diagnostic tests and thoroughly assess the patient’s medical history and current condition to determine their health condition accurately.
They must check for any allergic reactions to medication and previous adverse reactions to anesthesia. This will help the anesthesiologist determine the best type of anesthesia for the patient. The anesthesiologist must also correctly communicate with the patient about crucial steps that they have to take before going through a medical procedure.
Anesthesia equipment failure or misuse are common types of pre-operation errors. This can happen when the anesthesiologist fails to maintain or use the anesthesia equipment properly. Before using it on a patient, it is essential to check that all anesthesia equipment is working adequately and has no defects.
For example, a faulty pulse oximeter can give a false reading and cause the anesthesiologist to miscalculate the patient’s oxygen level.
Post-operation errors can also occur when the doctor fails to monitor the patient’s vital signs properly and provide the necessary post-operative care. Some patients may experience post-operative pain, nausea, and vomiting, and these symptoms can lead to serious complications if not adequately monitored and treated.
Complications of Anesthesia Malpractice
Anesthesia malpractice can cause serious injury or even death. Some of the most common complications include:
One of the most common complications of anesthesia is cardiac complications. This can happen when the anesthesiologist makes an intubation or extubation error. Cardiac complications can also occur when the anesthesiologist does not appropriately monitor the patient’s blood pressure and vital signs during the surgery.
Patients who experience cardiac complications require treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU) and may need to be placed on a ventilator.
Another complication of anesthesia is nosocomial infection. This is an infection that a patient contracts while they are in the hospital. Nosocomial infections are often the result of poor hygiene or sterilization practices.
Patients who develop a nosocomial infection may experience fever, chills, and body aches.
Potential Neurological Injuries
Anesthesia malpractice can also cause potential neurological injuries. This can happen when the oxygen levels are low during the surgery or when the anesthesiologist does not correctly monitor the patient’s vital signs.
Patients who experience a neurological injury may suffer from brain injury, paralysis, strokes, or brain damage. They often require long-term care and treatment.
Spinal Cord Damages
Anesthesia malpractice can also cause spinal cord damage. The spinal cord is susceptible, and even a slight mistake can cause severe damage. This can happen when the anesthesiologist makes an error while administering spinal anesthesia, damaging the spinal nerve root.
Patients who experience a spinal cord injury may suffer from paralysis, loss of sensation, and loss of motor function. They often require long-term care and treatment.
In some severe cases, anesthesia malpractice can lead to wrongful death. This is the most serious complication of anesthesia and often happens when the medical doctor does not appropriately monitor the patient’s vital signs or fails to provide the necessary post-operative care.
Populations at Risk for Anesthesia Malpractice
Considering the risk factors associated with anesthesia, certain populations are at a higher risk for anesthesia malpractice. These include:
Immunocompromised patients are at a higher risk for developing complications after surgery. This is because their immune system cannot fight off infection as effectively as a healthy patient’s immune system.
Elderly patients are also at a higher risk for developing complications after surgery. This is because they are more likely to have chronic health conditions that can make anesthesia more dangerous.
Pediatric patients are also at a higher risk for developing complications after surgery. This is because their bodies are still growing and developing, and they may not be able to handle the anesthesia as well as an adult.
Prevalence of Anesthesia Malpractice
Anesthesia malpractice is a serious problem in the United States. In fact, a 2017 study found that anesthesiologists go through an annual rate of paid malpractice claims of 11.7 per 1000 physician-years that reach over one million dollars.
In another study regarding anesthesia-related mortality, 2,211 reported deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2005 can be attributed to anesthesia errors and complications. It recorded 867 deaths in hospitals, 348 deaths in outpatient settings, 46 deaths during admission to a hospital, 258 deaths after discharge, and 349 deaths in a hospice or nursing home.
Recent medical and technological advances paved the way to a decrease in the incidence of anesthesia-related mortality. However, it is still vital to be aware of the possible complications during and after surgery.
Why Should You Hire a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Anesthesia Malpractice Cases?
If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical negligence resulting in anesthesia malpractice, it is crucial to hire a medical malpractice lawyer. A medical malpractice lawyer will be able to help you navigate the legal process and assist you in building a medical malpractice case.
Anesthesia malpractice cases can be complex and time-consuming. A medical malpractice lawyer will be able to investigate your case, gather evidence, and build a solid legal argument on your behalf.
Recoverable Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases
If you win your medical malpractice lawsuit, you may be entitled to recover monetary damages. These can include:
- Past and future medical expenses: If you have incurred medical bills because of the anesthesia error, you may be able to recover these costs. You may also be able to recover future medical expenses if you require further treatment because of the anesthesia error.
- Lost wages: If you have missed work because of the anesthesia error, you may be able to recover your lost wages.
- Pain and suffering: You may be able to recover damages for the physical pain and emotional suffering that you have experienced because of the anesthesia error.
- Loss of quality of life: You may be able to recover damages for the loss of enjoyment of life that you have experienced because of the anesthesia error.
- Wrongful death: If the anesthesia error resulted in the death of a loved one, you might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Punitive damages: In some cases, you may be able to recover punitive damages. These are damages intended to punish the doctor or hospital for their negligence.
Proving a Medical Malpractice Case
Medical malpractice claims are complex and require a high burden of proof. In order to win your case, you will need to prove that the anesthesiologist or hospital was negligent in their care of you.
You will also need to show that this negligence resulted in an injury. There are four elements that you will need to prove in a medical malpractice case:
- A duty of care: You will need to show that the anesthesiologist or hospital owed you a duty of care. This means that they were responsible for providing you with a certain standard of care.
- Breach of duty of care: You will need to show that the anesthesiologist or hospital breached their duty of care. This means that they did not meet the standard of care that they owed you.
- Causation: You must show that the anesthesiologist or hospital’s breach of duty of care caused your injury.
- Damages: You must show that you suffered damages because of the anesthesiologist or hospital’s negligence.
Schedule a Consultation With a Lawyer
Anesthesia errors are serious and can have life-altering consequences. You must talk to a medical malpractice attorney about your case if you or a loved one has been injured because of an anesthesia error.
Here at The Pagan Law Firm, we have experienced New York medical malpractice lawyers who can help you get the justice you deserve. We will review your malpractice claim and advise you of your legal options. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.