Every year thousands of surgical errors occur. Surgical errors are different from bad outcomes, which are the known risks of undergoing a surgical procedure. The document you sign before surgery called a “consent” form, is where the doctor lists these known risks. The consent you give, however, must be “informed;” that is, the doctor must actually explain the risks of the surgery so that you understand them. Surgical errors, on the other hand, are not a risk to which you can possibly consent—no one in their right mind ever consents to doctor error. They are events outside the inherent risks of surgery and are preventable. Some surgical errors are so preventable that doctors call them “never events;” that is, they should never happen. Examples of surgical never events include leaving surgical tools inside the patient, operating room fires, or operating on the wrong part of the body.
Why Do Surgical Errors Occur?
Every surgery is unique. Unfortunately, some errors have become far too common to be considered to be unique. Some of the common, underlying, reasons for these errors are:
- Negligence – This happens when surgeons are not as careful or thorough as they should be
- Incompetence – This is when a surgeon lacks the skill to perform the surgery successfully
- Poor Communication – A surgeon’s failure to communicate properly with the surgical team and/or other hospital staff
- Work Process Errors – Taking shortcuts because a surgeon thinks there are unnecessary or inconvenient
- Preoperative Preparation Errors – failing to adequately review, prepare for, and take steps to prevent any “known” risks
- Fatigue – Not having adequate rest before performing a surgical procedure
- Drugs/Alcohol – Performing a surgical procedure while impaired
We’ve prepared this infographic to help you understand more about surgical errors and how they happen: