What are My Rights Concerning Anesthesia Errors?August 9, 2021
Patients who undergo medical procedures that require anesthesia should be well informed about all aspects of what will take place, including the type of medication and how it will be administered. There are always risks involved with anesthesia; errors may result from any number of factors, including negligence. Anesthesiologists are required to review patient medical and medication histories, allergies, and all the particulars of the procedure that will be taking place. From there, they use their knowledge and experience to establish the appropriate combination of drugs.
Anesthesiologists are then responsible for deciding the safest way to deliver the anesthesia and then monitor how it is given throughout the course of the procedure. Afterwards, anesthesiologists have to follow up with patients and provide the right postoperative care. Failing to carry out any of these responsibilities can cause serious injuries or patient death and could constitute medical negligence. It is also important to note that anesthesia mistakes can also be made by other doctors, nurses, or any other medical staff members who administer anesthetic drugs to patients.
What are the Different Kinds of Anesthesia?
Local anesthesia is appropriate for numbing specific areas in the body, such as a tooth. It is also often used for minor procedures like small biopsies. If administered correctly, it causes few side effects and is safe. Larger doses are riskier when absorbed into the bloodstream; this can lead to system toxicity that adversely affects a patient’s blood pressure, heartbeat, and breathing.
Spinal and epidural anesthesia is used to block pain from a patient’s lower body, and anesthesiologists administer it via injection by the spinal cord. It can also cause system toxicity, plus infections and pulmonary problems. In some cases, nerves are damaged, which can cause weakness, soreness, and a temporary or permanent loss of feeling. These complications can also occur with regional anesthesia, which numbs large areas of the body such as an entire leg or arm.
Dissociative anesthesia is used for other types of procedures and creates a trance-like or so-called twilight sleep. This is often used for colonoscopies and other same-day procedures and surgeries. General anesthesia puts patients to sleep or renders them completely unconscious, with combinations of different medications. This is used for major procedures such as joint surgeries and heart surgeries.
General anesthesia also comes with inherent risks for patients. It can result in increased heart rate and blood pressure, plus damage to the mouth and voice box. It also slows down the patient’s throat functioning, including coughing, swallowing, and gagging. The chance for aspiration is an added danger. This is when liquid or food gets stuck in the respiratory tract. This is why patients are instructed not to eat or drink before being anesthetized. Doctors may insert endotracheal tubes to prevent aspiration, but this can lead to respiratory complications such as larynx muscle spasms and the need for bronchial tubes.
What Kind of Mistakes do Anesthesiologists Make?
One of the most common anesthesiology errors is incorrect dosage, either too little or too much. Patients who are not given enough medication for procedures can wake up too early or experience significant pain, which can both be traumatic. This kind of anesthesia awareness can be especially problematic when patients know what is going on but cannot communicate their pain because of the paralytic drugs.
Too much anesthesia can extend the sedation time, resulting in brain damage or coma. If the medication delivery is delayed by syringe swapping, vaporizer leakage, or intravenous errors, this could also lead to surgery complications. Sometimes, defective medical equipment and device are the sources of these kinds of issues.
Patients undergoing procedures may need to be intubated to open up their airways, which allows them to breathe better. If this is not performed when needed, patients can end up with cardiovascular failure; lip, larynx, trachea, and teeth failure; and neurological problems. Or, if a pulse oximeter alarm is mistakenly shut off, a patient’s oxygen level will not be measured properly.
The pulse oximeter and other equipment monitor patients’ oxygen, consciousness, heart rate, and other essential readings. These must all be carefully watched throughout procedures to prevent the risks of complications, brain injuries, and fatalities. Not keeping an eye on these monitors is a serious medial error and is akin to leaving patients unattended.
Other Types of Anesthesia Errors
Many anesthesiology errors are due to errors in judgment and can be unintentional. Still, medical providers are required to follow standard procedures and protocols, and these include attention to detail and a duty of care that is owed to their patients.
Clear and consistent communication between all medical staff members during medical procedures is crucial. Not keeping everyone accurately informed about the patient’s vital signs and condition regularly during a procedure can lead to traumatic consequences. Patients also need to know ahead of time that they should not drink or eat. Other important tasks that must be completed prior to procedures include taking detailed patient histories, including past procedures, past experiences with anesthesia, and allergies.
Mistakes are also made when providers do not thoroughly evaluate patient medical histories. This is why it is helpful to have a family member or friend present when this is being done. Unfortunately, this may not always be possible if there is no one available or for safety restrictions because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) or other reasons, so patients must advocate for themselves. Anesthesiologists and other providers may also fail to clean their instruments or may be distracted during procedures. Failing to follow up and help patients with their postoperative care can also be dangerous.
What are My Rights with Anesthesia Errors?
Serious anesthesia errors lead to devastating injuries such as heart failure, blood clots, hypertension, pneumonia, pulmonary issues, brain damage, infections, paralysis, coma, and death. If the losses are severe, patients may be entitled to damages to cover the medical costs and loss of income. Temporary impairments may also be eligible for compensation, but the overall amount would be less.
Injured patients and their families may have the option of filing medical malpractice lawsuits against anesthesiologists and/or the hospital or medical facility where the alleged malpractice occurred. To prove anesthesia malpractice, a plaintiff would need to have evidence of medical negligence. This means that someone did not exercise a reasonable standard of patient care or that something was done wrong. To pursue this kind of a case, an experienced malpractice lawyer would evaluate the patient’s associated pre-surgical risk factors, the type of anesthesia, the notes taken during the procedure, and the complication rate.
Anesthesiologists may be deemed liable for these errors if the provider is an independent contractor. Or, they may be liable if it can be proved that the negligence was their failure to facilitate proper care. The hospital or medical facility could be held liable for negligent hiring and supervision of the anesthesiologist. If the anesthesiologist is an employee, the hospital could become automatically liable for the negligence; this is called vicarious liability. If the claim of medical malpractice is valid, the anesthesiologist and facility may be held legal and financially responsible for the damages.
What Kind of Damages Might I Receive for Anesthesia Errors?
Patients injured from anesthesia errors may be entitled to compensation for the cost of future treatment. The injuries caused by the negligence may require additional procedures, medication, and long-term care and therapy. If a patient cannot return to work temporarily or permanently, they may also receive damages to cover that loss of income. Significant physical and emotional pain and suffering may also qualify for compensation in some cases.
Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton are Experienced with Anesthesia Error Cases
Serious anesthesia errors made during procedures can be traumatic and lead to life-long complications or even death. If you or someone close to you has experienced this kind of medical negligence, do not hesitate to contact the skilled Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will create a case that helps you recover the damages that you deserve. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.
Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.