Anesthesia Mistakes: A Matter of Life or Death


Administering anesthesia is a complex process because anesthesiologists must tread a fine line to avoid overdosing or underdosing a patient. Preoperative screening is important, and conscious patients should be questioned if possible if there are no records available before emergency surgery.

General anesthetics used in surgeries target receptors that render patients impervious to pain and insensible while autonomous functions like breathing and blood circulation continue.

Unfortunately, volatile anesthetics don’t bind with protein receptors very long, so anesthesia often contains up to 1,000 times as much concentration of the chemicals as ordinary medicines that bind with receptors more efficiently.

That makes determining how much anesthesia to use relatively complex and quick to change. Anesthesiologists must pay close attention to the monitors throughout the surgery, fine-tuning the mix of gases or using other forms of anesthetic than gas — such as nerve blocks.

Some of the Most Common Anesthesia Mistakes

About 40 million surgical procedures requiring anesthesia are conducted each year. About 250,000 people die annually because of medical errors, and hospitals lose their professional impartiality when facing a tribunal of experts investigating a wrongful death suit. Usually, hospital staff members close ranks and fight to prove that nobody on the team made critical errors.

There are more than 1.5 million adverse drug reactions each year, and when these cause acute or permanent injuries, you need an experienced team of lawyers to refute the evidence of the hospital’s strong team of doctors and lawyers who will try to minimize the hospital’s culpability.

Five of the most common mistakes made in sedating patients include:

  1. Errors with documentation. Documentation errors are relatively common, but most of these errors involve mistakes in billing instead of treatment. Documentation of the surgeon’s recommendations for postoperative care are errors that could affect a patient’s recovery.
  2. Improper regulation of the IV flow rate. Raising or lowering the IV flow rate can have serious effects on the patient’s response to surgery and recovery time. Accurate communication between the anesthesiologist and surgeon is critical. If the flow rate is too fast or too slow, it may affect the anesthesia. Fluid overload may raise blood pressure and cause breathing difficulties, while setting flow rates too low may prevent the patient from getting enough anesthesia.
  3. Dosing errors. Dosing errors are always a major concern because of the delicate balance that must be maintained throughout surgery. Sixteen percent of dosing errors are caused by inexperienced anesthesiologists. About 9.3 percent of errors are due to equipment unfamiliarity, and 5.6 of dosing errors are caused by carelessness, negligence, or haste.
  4. Faulty postoperative pain management. Postoperative pain is hard to diagnose and treat properly because each patient responds differently to surgery. The health care team wants to manage postoperative pain without the patient receiving adverse effects from strong opioids. It is difficult to administer drugs at the right time and dosage to avoid all pain, vomiting, infection, nausea, addiction, and chronic regional pain syndrome.
  5. Administration of residual anesthetics. Occasionally, patients receive unintentional residual doses of anesthetics from built-up deposits on vein cell walls and residue when the device is flushed. The risk of accidental flushing of anesthetics runs even higher among children, which many experts believe that hospitals fail to report. Doses of residual anesthetics coupled with opioid pain relievers could increase the likelihood of serious side effects.

Determining Liability

Determining liability in a hospital injury case caused by anesthetics can be technical and challenging. If you were harmed by a negligent doctor, nurse, or another medical professional during or after surgery, consider talking to a medical malpractice attorney.

And if medical malpractice caused the death of a loved one, an experienced wrongful death attorney will usually offer a free case evaluation and initial consultation in most cases of hospital deaths caused by anesthesia.