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Is Surgery More Dangerous Than We Think?

Surgical ErrorsWith over 48 million surgeries performed in the United States every year, it’s important to know the risk factors and possible outcomes before hopping on the operating room table.

Oftentimes, surgical procedures are performed without a hitch, leaving the patient reaping the benefits of the procedure and ready to move on with their lives.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

While most patients come out of surgery with a positive outcome, others come out in worse shape than ever before.

Surgical Errors Top List of Medical Malpractice Claims

A recent study by a nationally recognized medical professional liability insurer examined over 10,000 closed medical malpractice claims from 2014-2018.

What they found was shocking.

Of the 10,000+ claims analyzed over the five-year period, over 25% of them involved surgical allegations. That is, any error occurring during preparation for surgery, during the surgery itself, or after the procedure is complete

Only diagnosis-related claims showed a higher percentage, making up a staggering 32% of medical malpractice claims.

That means that over HALF of all medical malpractice claims involved either a surgical error or a diagnostic error.

What is Defined as “Medical Malpractice”?

According to the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA), “Medical malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. The negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management.”

In order for a case to be considered medical malpractice under law, three qualifications must be met:

  1. A violation of the standard of care,
  2. An injury was caused by the negligence; and
  3. The injury resulted in significant damages.

Surgical Specialties Resulting in Claims

medical malpractice surgeryOf the surgery-related medical malpractice claims that were analyzed for this study, over 47% of them involved just three surgical specialties:

  1. General Surgery, 22%
  2. Orthopedic Surgery, 17%
  3. Neurosurgery, 8%

General surgery, meaning a surgery focused mainly on abdominal contents such as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, appendix and bile ducts, and the thyroid gland, was cited in 22% of the cases studied.

Orthopedic surgery, otherwise known as orthopedics, addresses any surgical procedure concerned with the musculoskeletal system and accounted for 17% of medical malpractice claims.

The third most common specialty was neurosurgery at 8% of medical malpractice claims. Neurosurgery is concerned with the surgical treatment of any disorder that affects the nervous system including the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and cerebrovascular system.

Top Surgical Allegations

What exactly is happening during surgeries that result in medical malpractice claims? The study cites the performance of the surgeon as the number one allegation at a staggering 78%. The remaining 22% of allegations are divided into:

  • Retained Foreign Body, 7%
  • Unnecessary Procedure, 4%
  • Wrong Side/Site/Patient, 3%
  • Delay in Surgery, 3%

Injury Severity

Of all the analyzed medical malpractice claims, it’s important to take into consideration the extent of the injuries. Were people left emotionally traumatized? What kind of injuries actually resulted from these surgical errors itself?

The injuries resulting from surgery-related claims ranged in severity. The lowest severity, emotional damage, accounted for only 1% of injuries, while death, the highest severity, resulted in 9%.

Of the surgery-related medical malpractice claims, 29% of injuries resulted in either permanent injury or death. An additional 31% resulted in temporary major injuries, 19% claimed permanent minor injuries, and 17% said their surgery resulted in temporary minor injuries.

Conclusion

Thousands of surgical procedures are performed every day in the U.S. Although most are performed without any tragic outcomes, there are cases where medical malpractice does occur.

If you or someone you know has experienced a surgery where medical malpractice may have occurred, it’s important to know the facts. Contact a Cleveland medical malpractice attorney at Tittle & Perlmuter to be informed of your rights and seek justice for the negligence of others.

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