Anesthesia errors, fortunately, are not everyday occurrences. When they do happen, the results are often catastrophic. Since a serious anesthesia mistake often causes deprivation of oxygen to the patient, death or brain damage can be the end result.
To the great credit of the anesthesia profession, it was anesthesiologists who led the way to modern methods of medication error reduction. Borrowing techniques from the airline industry, anesthesia professionals used “root cause analysis” to analyze each step in an anesthesia catastrophe until the cause was understood. Systemic failures were often the root cause – for example, poor communication between surgeon and anesthesiologist, excessive work loads, or training inadequately oriented to preventing errors.
In the 1980s, the American Society of Anesthesiologists devised standards of care, which evolve with advances in learning and technology, and that ultimately were recognized as standards applicable to the entire profession. Monitoring a patient’s oxygenation during anesthesia, has vastly improved over the years. The result of the anesthesia profession’s introspection and efforts to improve, has been to radically reduce the number of anesthesia tragedies. The methods used by the anesthesia profession have been adopted by medical professionals generally to reduce medication and other medical errors.
No system is error-free. Anesthesia tragedies have occurred in Massachusetts in recent years due to temporary anesthesia staff unfamiliar with a hospital’s procedures, administration of the wrong type of anesthesia, failure to empty a stomach of food prior to administering general anesthesia (which can cause the patient to vomit into the lung with often fatal result), to name a few. Whenever a patient dies or suffers brain damage unexpectedly during surgery, a call to a medical malpractice attorney is wise. Anesthesia records are detailed and provide a minute to minute picture of what did or did not occur. If anesthesia malpractice occurred, it can generally be discovered by an expert review of the medical record. In a case of anesthesia malpractice, the patient’s rights to recover for the injuries caused are the same as for any other form of medical malpractice.