Surgery—whether it is an emergency surgery or a planned procedure—usually requires the use of anesthesia. While most patients come out of their surgeries in better shape than when they entered the operating room, there are some patients who suffer harm due to surgical anesthesia malpractice.
What Is Anesthesia Malpractice?
In order to understand anesthesia malpractice, it is important to understand what anesthesia is exactly. Anesthesia is a drug that puts patients into a temporary induced state to undergo surgery without feeling pain. There are many different types of anesthesia such as general anesthesia, local anesthesia, regional anesthesia, spinal anesthesia, and epidural anesthesia. Some anesthetic drugs put patients in a drug-induced state of unconsciousness and some allow patients to remain conscious, but all of these types of drugs are supposed to limit muscle reflexes and eliminate pain.
Anesthesiologists administer the different types of anesthetic drugs prior to surgery. When an anesthesia error resulting in patient harm occurs due to the negligence of an anesthesiologist, a patient may be able to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit seeking damages for the harm they suffered. Sadly, even small mistakes made by anesthesiologists can have large adverse consequences, such as brain damage, permanent injury, and even death. Some of the ways in which an anesthesiologist commits medical malpractice include:
- Dosage errors. Sometimes anesthesiologists give too much anesthesia to patients. An overdose like this can have severe consequences and lead to heart and brain damage. Other times, anesthesiologists may under dose patients with general anesthesia, which can cause patients to regain consciousness during surgery.
- Failure to monitor. Anesthesiologists are supposed to stand by patients during an entire surgery to monitor their oxygen levels and vital signs. When anesthesiologists fail to monitor patients’ breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate, complications can occur that can be life-changing or fatal.
- Intubation errors. Some surgeries require intubation where a tube is inserted into the trachea to assist with breathing. When an anesthesiologist misplaces the tube, a patient can endure breathing complications as well as tooth damage, throat damage, injuries to the mouth, and damage to the larynx.
- Labor and delivery errors. When anesthesiologists give women spinal and epidural anesthesia during labor and delivery or a cesarean section, the injection has to be placed in the right location or adverse consequences—even paralysis—can occur.
Although anesthesia mistakes typically occur during surgery, mistakes can also be made prior to surgery in the following ways:
- Failure to review the patient’s medical chart. When an anesthesiologist doesn’t review a patient’s chart and history to learn of allergies to medications and possible complications that can occur due to a patient’s current medications and health status, it can be considered medical malpractice.
- Poor preoperative instructions and lack of communication. Failure to inform a patient of how to prepare for surgery and what the risks are is negligence. With most surgeries that involve anesthesia, patients should be instructed not to eat or drink anything for a certain time period prior to the surgery because it is possible to asphyxiate during surgery.
Any of these errors that involve patient harm are considered grounds for a medical malpractice claim. If you think you have a medical malpractice lawsuit, please call us at (703) 591-0067 to discuss your case. We would be happy to answer your questions. Or if you are looking for more information before talking with an attorney, please download a free copy of our book, Do You Have a Case? A Patient’s Guide to Virginia Medical Negligence Law.