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How Common Are Medication Errors in the OR?

As San Diego medical malpractice attorneys, we are concerned by the high number of medical errors that occur in operating rooms, many of which involve anesthesia. At a recent conference on drug safety, one anesthesiologist went so far as to call the OR a “black hole of medication safety.”

The high risk for medication errors associated with anesthesia is attributable in large part to how it is delivered. Unlike other health professionals, anesthesiologists dispense, premix, repackage, relabel, and administer medications without independent verification.

In 2013, a study found that the OR and the post-anesthesia care unit disproportionately accounted for 81 percent of all medication error reports, which is five times the error rates reported in the rest of the hospital. Moreover, more than 60 percent of medication errors committed by anesthesiologists are related to the removal of incorrect ampoules or vials from anesthesia drug trays, incorrect labeling of syringes after admixing, and syringe swaps during surgery

A 2015 study raised similar concerns about OR safety. The researchers found that one medication error occurred in nearly half of the 277 operations examined. Approximately 1 in 20 surgical medication administrations resulted in a medication error or adverse drug event. Even more concerning, 80 percent of these errors were preventable. Although none of the medication mistakes were fatal, two-thirds of the errors were categorized as "serious," and two percent were considered life-threatening.

Given the alarming statistics, patient safety advocates are calling on hospitals to implement safety checks in the OR that are specifically designed to prevent medication errors. While not yet widely implemented, some facilities have implemented a computer-aided syringe labeling, bar-coding and verification process that requires anesthesiologist to scan every drug ampoule and syringe label for accuracy verification throughout drug dispensing, premixing, administration, and documentation.

If you or someone you care about has suffered serious harm due to a medication error or other serious medical mistake in the OR, you may be entitled to compensation. For more information, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.