Anesthesia Malpractice: What Patients Should Know
Anesthesia has allowed for tremendous advances in medicine. From going to the dentist, to epidurals during pregnancy, to general surgery, it’s likely that everyone will go under some form of anesthesia during their lifetime. Because of its widespread use, it’s important to know what being anesthetized entails, what to expect, and what complications are associated with it. Being placed under anesthesia sometimes seems like a very minor thing, however, anesthesia is actually a major medical procedure that should be undertaken by anesthesiologists who are highly trained professionals, certified to undertake this type of procedure with careful precision. They’re supposed to carefully monitor the patient’s health and adjust for any changes during the course of a surgical procedure.
What is Anesthesia?
Anesthesia is a medical method to control pain during a procedure. It can also help control your breathing, blood pressure, blood flow, heart rate, and rhythm.
There are three types of anesthesia:
- General: The patient is completely unconscious and has neither awareness nor sensations. General anesthesia is used in most surgeries and is usually administered as gas or through a vein.
- Regional: The patient’s nerves in a certain area are numbed so they don’t feel any pain. The patient can either remain awake or can be given a sedative for the procedure. The most common types of regional anesthesia are spinal anesthesia and epidural anesthesia.
- Local: Tissues in a specific area are injected with an anesthetic to numb that area for a procedure. A common use of local anesthesia is at the dentist during dental procedures.
What to Expect When Being Anesthetized
While local anesthesia is relatively low-risk, regional and general anesthesia both pose greater risks. Before undergoing any type of anesthesia, a patient should meet with a doctor or anesthesiologist to discuss their relevant medical history and determine the best course of action. During the procedure, an anesthesiologist will monitor the patient’s bodily functions and react to any sudden changes. After being under general anesthesia, when the procedure is complete, the anesthesiologist will give the patient medication to reverse the effects of the anesthetic in order for the patient to regain consciousness.
Complications from Anesthesia
While it is rare, patients under general anesthesia occasionally experience intraoperative awareness, meaning they are lucid during surgery when they are supposed to be completely unconscious. This awareness can range from a hazy recollection of the operating room to a specific awareness of one’s surroundings during surgery. While most patients who experience anesthesia awareness don’t feel pain, it can be an extremely traumatic experience for them.
Intraoperative awareness can occur in high-risk surgeries when a patient’s condition does not permit the standard dose of anesthesia or if an anesthesiologist fails to administer the appropriate dosage. Other complications from an inappropriate dose of anesthesia can include minor complications like dizziness, blurred vision, and fatigue, and/or major complications like nerve damage, heart and brain damage, paralysis, strokes, and even death.
A patient under anesthesia is literally helpless and has to trust the physician, the anesthesiologist, and the entire hospital staff to appropriately administer the necessary drugs and monitor their condition. The good news is, in the majority of surgeries, the anesthesia has no ill effect and the patient comes out fine. Most complications caused by anesthesia are avoidable, but sometimes an anesthesiologist makes mistakes and those mistakes can result in a patient suffering serious injury or even death.
What is Anesthesiology Malpractice?
Anesthesia malpractice occurs when an anesthesiologist has been negligent in their duties, meaning they or someone else working in support of them failed to live up to the standard of care consistent with other professionals in their field. Most of the time, anesthesiology malpractice occurs in the operating room, but it can happen should a patient be incorrectly intubated or if a medical team fails to monitor the patient’s vital signs during preoperative preparation, the procedure, and the postoperative period. In some cases, they may fail to educate the patient regarding food, drink, and/or alcohol restrictions both before and after the surgical procedure; and, in other cases, the equipment they use to either administer the anesthesia or monitor the patient’s vital signs may be defective.
Whenever an anesthesiologist is negligent in performing their duties, the injuries are often catastrophic. Medical malpractice insurance premiums for anesthesiologists are much higher than those of other medical specialties, indicating that these mistakes are all too common and the injuries are substantial. Among the most common injuries resulting from anesthesia malpractice include strokes, collapsed lungs, brain damage, and wrongful death. Because the injuries resulting from anesthesia malpractice are often nothing short of devastating, the costs of treating them are incredibly high – and it’s not just about the medical bills. In many cases, damages include mental impairment, long-term care, rehabilitation, physical therapy, permanent disability, the cost of a lifetime of medical and palliative care, as well as many years of lost wages and diminished future earning capacity.
Label Changes Highlight Risks of Anesthesia Errors in Children
Anesthesia issues don’t just affect adult patients; and, although the use of these medications has greatly improved modern medicine and patient outcomes, all medicines still come with risks. With regard to minor patients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required updates to anesthesia medication labels to better reflect risks, particularly in children. The updated labeling highlights the importance of proper dosing for young patients.
The FDA’s required updates to anesthesia medication labeling and packaging occurred because studies on both animals and humans showed general anesthesia and other sedative drugs used for more than three hours on young children can be associated with developmental, learning, and/or behavioral disorders. The FDA advises doctors to balance the benefits of appropriate anesthesia in young children against the potential risks, especially for procedures that may last longer than three hours or if multiple procedures are required in children under three years.
The Unique Dangers of Anesthesia Errors in Children
While medication errors are dangerous for all patients, children are particularly at risk for serious injuries or even death. Because children are much smaller, their bodies are not capable of processing the same amount of medication as adults. Medications for children are given in much smaller doses to protect them from experiencing serious side effects. Additionally, children’s bodies, and most importantly their brains, are still developing and are especially vulnerable to injuries of all kinds. Because of this, even a small medication dosage error could have deadly consequences for a young patient.
While the FDA’s new labeling requirements will help prevent debilitating injuries caused by anesthesia in young patients, unfortunately, there will still be young patients that suffer injuries from medication errors and anesthesia errors. When this occurs, patients and their families have a right to hold the responsible healthcare facility and healthcare professionals accountable.
How To Protect Yourself from Anesthesia Errors
Whether a hospital delivers anesthesia by a wireless device or by hand, there are certain things patients can do to help decrease the likelihood of anesthesia errors. Most importantly, patients need to feel free to ask questions. Asking how a hospital administers medication can open dialogue between practitioners and patients about their care. It is also a good idea for patients to do their own research on hospitals and doctors before procedures (if possible). A hospital’s record and reputation can alert you to potential problems. However, even though there are things patients can do to reduce the risk of medical malpractice, it is ultimately the hospital’s responsibility to administer all anesthesia correctly. When they fail to do so, they can be held responsible for the resulting injuries caused to the patient.
Philadelphia Anesthesia Error Injury Lawyers
If you or someone you know believe that a mistake made with anesthesia treatment during a medical procedure or hospital stay caused injury or even death, you should speak to a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible. Time limits apply to these legal claims and an investigation by an experienced legal team will take time, so don’t delay in contacting Lopez McHugh for more information on how we can help. All of our initial consultations are free, confidential, and non-binding, so call us today at (215) 960-9374.