Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Anesthesia Error Medical Malpractice

For the most part, doctors work hard to uphold the Hippocratic Oath to take care of their patients. Unfortunately, they do make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes result in serious consequences for unfortunate patients, creating lasting damages for them and their families. When the consequences are a result of negligence, the outcome is medical malpractice. The patient then has to decide whether or not they will file a medical malpractice suit to get compensation for the damages they suffered. It is estimated that anesthesia is administered over 40 million times per year.
Unfortunately, anesthesia errors are one of the most common forms of medical negligence in the United States.
One of the most critical—and necessary—parts of any surgical procedure is anesthesia. General anesthesia induces a patient into an unconscious-state, allowing them to avoid the pain and discomfort associated with surgery. There are also more localized types of anesthesia.
Those who administer the anesthetic medication—deemed anesthesiologists—have an extremely important job, for which they study hard and are well compensated. Administering the drug is a complicated situation of checks and balances, assessing each patient’s weight, overall health, and the type of procedure the patient will undergo. Because there are so many factors involved in administering anesthesia, it is not uncommon for mistakes to happen. When that mistake causes a patient unnecessary harm, the patient or their family may have a medical malpractice claim.
Types of anesthesia include:
Local anesthetic is used to numb specific body parts or areas. This is done through an injection directly in the spot that needs numbing. The most common examples of local anesthetic are into the gums for a dental procedure or into the skin to have a mole removed.
The most common type is general anesthesia. This is the type of anesthesia that renders a patient unconscious. The medication is either inhaled (through a breathing mask) or administered intravenously. Often, a breathing tube is necessary to maintain proper breathing during surgery. When the surgery is over, the medication is discontinued (and sometimes medications to reverse the process are administered) and the patient is monitored as they come back around .
Spinal anesthetics are used to numb the area below the waist for surgery. For example the pelvic, rectal, or lower extremity region. This type of anesthesia involves injecting anesthetic medication into the area around the spinal cord. The injection then causes numbness in the lower body. This type of anesthesia is most often used in orthopedic procedures.
An epidural anesthetic is similar to a spinal anesthetic, except the medication is delivered continuously, rather than in a onetime injection. This type is most commonly used to numb the region for childbirth. Epidural anesthetics may also be used for other types of surgery, like chest or abdominal procedures.
Regional anesthesia is similar to local anesthesia, except that its goal is to numb a larger areas of the body, such as an entire leg.
Another form of anesthesia that does not completely render the patient unconscious is dissociative anesthesia. This medication has minimal effect on respiratory function and leaves the patient with other forms of movement like swallowing and opening their eyes. However, cognitive function is extremely limited, blocking the patient from processing information. This form of anesthesia is used for brief, superficial procedures or diagnostic processes.
Anesthesia Errors
Because of the nature of anesthesia, there are plenty of complications that can arise. It is a powerful drug that walks a thin line between leaving a patient too awake—and thus feeling pain from the surgery—and too incapacitated—thus making questionable if and how the patient will wake up again. Some common errors in anesthetic medicine are:
-Administering too little of an anesthetic drug, called Anesthetic Awareness
-Administering too much of one the anesthetic drugs, called Anesthetic Overdose
-Injecting anesthesia at the wrong rate, through IV or breathing mask
-Anesthetic equipment malfunction or failure
-Delayed delivery of anesthesia
-Delivering an incorrect anesthesia drug
-Administering incompatible drugs, either anesthetic with anesthetic or with prescription drugs
-Giving anesthesia to a patients with allergies to certain administered medications
-Failure to properly monitor the patient
-Injecting an anesthetic drug too quickly
-Improper reversal of anesthetic state

Complications from Anesthesia

The list of potential anesthetic complications is long and complicated. That’s because there is so much room for error, as discussed earlier. When a doctor is in charge of making a patient unconscious, making a patient lose muscle reflexes, and creating amnesia, there are a lot of things that could go wrong. Combine this with the fact that most anesthetics cause patients to lose the ability to breathe on their own (requiring ventilation) and a dangerous combination arises. Some of the potential complications are not serious enough to justify medical malpractice; some very much are. Some of the most common anesthetic complications are:
-Nausea and vomiting (up to 30% of patients)
-Tooth damage due to the placing of the breathing tube during the operation (1 in 4,500 cases)
-Damage to the larynx
-Serious allergic reaction to anesthetic drug(s) (0.2% of patients)
-Respiratory difficulties/respiratory depression
-Cardiovascular collapse
-Brain damage from lack of oxygen
-Blood clots/ Embolism
-Nerve injury (0.4% in general anesthesia)
-Heart attack
Some of the more serious and traumatic complications that can arise because of improper or negligent administering of anesthetic drugs are:
-Anesthesia awareness,
-Stroke, and
Anesthesia awareness is when a person regains consciousness during a surgery while the drug keeping the patient from moving or talking is still working. This means the patient can feel what is happening to them but has no way to tell anyone or stop the pain. It is extremely rare, but when a patient is awake for a portion of their surgery, the results can be dramatic.

Stroke can occur while patient is under anesthesia or up to 10 days after the surgery. Sometimes strokes are minor, other times they lead to lasting brain damage. It is possible for a patient (mostly those with risk factors) to die from a stroke due to a combination of anesthetic drugs and after-effects of surgery.
Because of the extreme nature of rendering a person paralyzed, unconscious, and unable to feel pain, there are definite risk factors for death. The most common causes of death from anesthetics are circulatory failure in combination with an overdose of secondary anesthetic drugs; problems with breathing and oxygenation of blood from human or mechanical error; allergic reactions including malignant hypothermia; and general human negligence such as lack of watchfulness or errors in the administration of the drugs or mechanical equipment.
When is a Hospital Liable in a Lawsuit?
In most cases, the anesthesiologist will have been employed by the hospital. In these cases, the hospital will automatically be liable for any negligence committed by its employee. This is called vicarious liability.
It is possible for the anesthesiologist to be an independent contractor, in which case the hospital may not be liable (but the independent anesthesiologist will be). However, the hospital may be held liable for the independent contractor if they were negligent in hiring and supervising them.
The hospital may also be liable if the negligence occurred due to anesthesia equipment failure. In this case, the hospital may be independently negligent for failing to maintain and repair its equipment.

How does one prove anesthetic medical negligence?

The main cause of medical malpractice always comes down to medical negligence.
In order to be found negligent, a doctor must perform an act or omission (failure to act) that deviates from the accepted medical standard of care. Basically, they must do something wrong (accidental or purposeful) or fail to act when they should have.
In medical malpractice cases, courts define medical negligence as a healthcare provider’s failure to exercise the degree of care and skill of the average health care provider.
In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff’s attorney will produce an expert medical witness (the plaintiff must prove malpractice) to testify that the defendant doctor did not act in a way that any reasonable doctor would have. The attorney and witness will analyze factors like pre-surgical risk for anesthesia, the surgeon’s and anesthesiologist’s operative notes, and what happened during the surgery. The known complication rate of the certain type of anesthesia used during the surgery is also a major factor.
Columbia University Study

In the early 2000's, the University of Columbia researched the epidemiology of deaths from anesthesia. Previously, data on the topic was only from individual hospitals. The goal of this study was to “examine the epidemiologic patterns of anesthesia-related deaths at the national level.” This is what they found:
-46.6% of anesthesia-related deaths were caused by anesthetics overdose
-42.5% were related to the adverse effects of anesthetics during therapeutic use
-3.6% occurred during childbirth
-7.3% were due to other complications

Dolman Law Group
Dolman Law Group is an experience personal injury frim representing the Clearwater–Tampa–St Pete area, and all of Florida. We specialize in medical malpractice suits with a focus on helping clients to recover and rebuild. If you or someone you love has suffered due to anesthesia error, contact us for a free consultation. One of our skilled malpractice attorneys will perform a free case evaluation to see to it that you get the justice you deserve. Call today at (727) 451-6900 or contact us here.