On August 3, 2016, the New York Times reported that a recent clinical trial strongly suggests that a surgical procedure to repair meniscal tears in the knee joint to treat pain are "next to useless". What is striking is that about 400,000 middle-aged and older Americans undergo arthroscopic or open meniscus procedures each year. The meniscus is like a slice of cartilage serving as a shock absorber or cushion for the knee joint. As we age, the cartilage degenerates and tears causing pain in the knee. But knee pain can also be caused by osteoarthritis which is not cured by meniscal surgery. A meta-analysis published last year of nine clinical trials testing the efficacy of surgery versus physical therapy and/or exercise for knee pain found that the meniscus surgery offered the least benefit.
Another common surgery of dubious benefit for many is the spinal fusion that uses plates and screws to attach adjacent vertebrae to relieve back pain from dried out and/or herniated discs. According to the NY Times report, studies of the efficacy of spinal fusions "completed by the early 2000's should have been enough to greatly limit or stop the surgery, . . . but that did not happen." To the contrary, spinal fusions increased despite evidence that those patients had no better pain relief than those who exercised or underwent physical therapy.
Lesson to be learned: research, get a second opinion and ask a lot of questions. If you believe you are worse off following the surgery, consult a malpractice attorney.
While it is true that all surgical procedures carry inherent risks – as can be seen in standard informed consent agreements which you must sign before an operation – some risks should be completely avoidable as long as the medical staff acts responsibly. An unexpected and preventable mistake that occurs during surgery is called a surgical error. Serious injuries – or even death – may occur due to surgical errors, and many victims aren't aware that they can seek financial compensation for their suffering.
What types of surgical errors are there?
While there could be any number of surgical errors that may occur – as they are unexpected in nature – it is important to remember that they must also be preventable. Some of the most common surgical errors that patients suffer from include:
- Anesthesia: A patient can be given too much or too little anesthesia, as with any medication for the surgery. The improper administration of anesthesia can lead to a dangerous loss of of oxygen leading to a medical condition called hypoxia. During the induction process the larynx can be damaged from excessive force in placing the endotracheal tube leading yo a voice impairment.
- Wrong location: It is horrific to think about but a surgeon performing an operation on the wrong part of the patient's body. Examples include operating on the left arm instead of the right – or, operating on the wrong level of the spine. These examples are tragic surgical errors and they still occur today.
- Foreign objects: When a piece of medical equipment – such as a gauze pad, a clip, or a rubber glove – is left inside the patient's body after surgery, it can lead to a life-threatening situation.
- Incorrect equipment: If a surgeon chooses to use a piece of medical equipment that is not suited for the task, and if the correct piece was available at the time, a significant injury can develop which may require an additional procedure.
What can cause surgical errors?
From the most practiced and respected doctors to novice surgeons, any practitioner can make drastic surgical errors. There are errors in surgical planning and errors in the execution of the surgical plan. A few commonly cited reasons for surgical errors include:
- Incompetence: Every surgeon needs to start somewhere, and some lacking sufficient experience cause a surgical error because they have performed similar procedures only a few times, or, had never performed that operation alone before.
- Poor communication: Surgical teams need to use clear and concise communication amongst themselves to ensure that everything goes smoothly. If someone on the team isn't relaying the proper information to another staff member, surgical errors may occur.
- Fatigue: It is not uncommon for surgeons to work long hours, oftentimes spending long days in the hospital, even just for one procedure. The natural consequence of becoming exhausted can easily lead to fatigued induced surgical errors.
- Neglect: Damaging surgical errors can alter the patient's life forever. Needles tragedies occur when a surgeon isn't careful and methodical.
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