New lessons from old case: Anesthesia medical errors

What happens if an anesthetic error leads to injury or death?

Anesthesiologists manage medications to help keep patients comfortable during medical procedures. In many cases, the procedures unfold as planned with little or no surprises.

In others a mistake or negligent moment can lead to tragic results.

A case from over a decade ago provides an example. This case is used as an example as medical professionals recently researched the errors that led to the accident and found many of these issues remain in today's operating room. The case involves a young boy who underwent anesthesia for a procedure to clean out an infection in his ankle. The medical staff explained the procedure as a common one. Unfortunately, the anesthesiologist administered the wrong drug. The drug caused a blood pressure spike, ultimately leading to heart failure.

This case provides an opportunity to discuss two main points about anesthesia lawsuits: ways the practice can evolve to reduce the risk of future injuries and the nature of anesthesia error lawsuits.

Lesson from tragedy: Is change needed?

In many cases, medications used by anesthesiologists during procedures look the same and are stocked next to each other. This can increase the risk of a medication error. The case noted above led to a review of how anesthesiologists prepare and administer drugs in the operating room. A pediatric anesthesiologist from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia led the investigation. He found the patient above was supposed to receive an anti-nausea drug known as ondansetron. Instead, he received a medication known to boost blood pressure in severely ill patients. Part of the reason for the mistake was the fact that both medications were next to each other and had a similar appearance. This error was directly responsible for the young boy's heart failure and death.

The pediatric anesthesiologist behind the investigation recently released his findings to help support a call for a change in drug administration within the operating room. It is possible that findings like this will lead to change. However, those that are the victims of these mistakes can seek comfort and needed funds by holding the responsible parties legally accountable through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Anesthesia error: What leads to a lawsuit?

Anesthesiologists are generally in control of all three levels of medication management during a procedure. These specialists prescribe, prepare and administer the drug as needed during the medical procedure. This can call for quick thinking under stress if a patient has a negative reaction to a medication or if something goes wrong during the procedure.

If an anesthesiologist's medical error results in an injury, the patient may be able to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. A medical malpractice lawsuit against an anesthesiologist would be like a claim against any other medical specialist. The patient would gather evidence of the mistake. The patient would also need to gather additional evidence and testimony to establish the anesthesiologist's actions did not fall within the accepted standard of care for his or her profession. If successful, the patient can recoup expenses that result from the error. Expenses like additional medical costs and lost work as well as potential pain and suffering awards.