Medical professionals have developed, and use, a wide variety of surgical procedures to treat an array of health issues. Each surgical procedure differs from the other; however, most of them have one thing in common – the use of general anesthesia. Like every aspect of medical treatments and procedures, there are certain risks involved with the use and administration of anesthesia. Medical studies have shown that 7 out of 1 million patients die during the administration of general anesthesia. Further, about 1 in 20 patients die within a year of general anesthesia, and, for patients over the age of 65; the ratio becomes 1 in 10. When compared to other specialized areas of medicine, there is an extremely low risk of fatal injury associated with the administration of anesthesia.
Preventing the Patient From Feeling Pain or Extreme Anxiety
General anesthesia refers to the process by which patients are placed in a medically induced state of unconsciousness, by inhalation or intravenous agents, in order to produce operative benefits, such as preventing the patient from feeling pain or extreme anxiety. Unlike local or regional anesthesia, which is used to prevent a specific and targeted area of the patient’s body from feeling pain, general anesthesia affects the entire body and is typically used in procedures which take a long time, involve a significant amount of blood loss, expose the patient to a cold environment, and/or affect the patient’s breathing.
The prevalence of anesthesia, as well as its risks, has led to the medical community to train doctors who specialize in the administration of various types of anesthesia – anesthesiologists – and to train nurses to specialize in the administration of anesthesia as well. The specialized nurses are called certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs). The administration of anesthesia generally involves two steps: giving the patient a strong painkiller and administering a strong sleeping medication.
Despite the fact that the risks involved with general anesthesia are generally low, especially for healthy patients, several health factors have been shown to cause, or attribute, to complications during and after surgery. Moreover, many patients who need surgery are not healthy – which is why the surgical procedure may be necessary in the first place.
Surgical risk factors include, but are not limited to:
- Obstructive sleep apnea;
- High blood pressure;
- Medical conditions involving the lungs, kidneys, and/or heart;
- Use of medications that increase bleeding, such as aspirin;
- Significant use of alcohol in the past;
- Drug allergies; and
- History of adverse reactions to anesthesia.
Most of these risk factors, if not all, can be accounted for if the anesthesiologist obtains a patient’s health history, prescription and over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, allergies, and past experiences with anesthesia. Medical errors associated with the failure to properly administer anesthesia, or monitor an anesthetized patient during the surgery, can result in catastrophic injuries/damages to a patient.
Common injuries include, but are not limited to:
- Death or brain damage;
- Nerve injury;
- Respiratory injury;
- Backache or headache;
- Eye injury;
- Newborn injury;
- Intraoperative awareness or emotional distress; and
- Pneumothorax and aspiration pneumonitis.
Medical professionals can be held liable any time they act, in a manner that falls below the accepted medical standard of care. Unlike generalized areas of medicine, anesthesiologists and CRNAs are held to a “specialized” standard of care. In addition to the medical professionals who fail to conform to those applicable standard of care, hospitals and other medical centers can be held vicariously liable, not only for the actions of their employees, but also directly liable for their failure to adopt, maintain, and enforce rules that ensure adequate patient care.
Common medical errors that cause injuries associated with the administration of anesthesia include, but are not limited to:
- Failure to conduct a thorough and appropriate pre-anesthesia conference;
- Risks and medical history of the patient should be assessed.
- Failure to obtain informed consent for anesthesia;
- Frequent and well-known complications should be disclosed.
- Informed consent is not required in emergent circumstances.
- Improper administration of anesthetic agents
- Involves choosing the right agent, dosage, method, and positioning of the patient.
- Improper monitoring of vital signs, circulation, ventilation, fluids, electrolytes, and acid-based problems during anesthesia; and
- Failure of the anesthesiologist to monitor patients postoperatively in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU).
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania Have a 2 Year Statute of Limitations for Medical Malpractice Cases
However, the 2 years does not necessarily begin to run until discovery of the injury by the patient. In Pennsylvania, the Legislature has adopted the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act, which includes a statute of repose. The statute of repose abolishes all medical malpractice claims if they are not brought within 7 years of the alleged injury or contract breach. Unlike the statute of limitations, which does not begin to run until the harm has been discovered; the statute of repose begins to run from the date of the procedure regardless of when the harm or injury is discovered. It is important to keep this timeline in mind when deciding to contact an attorney. Further, contacting an attorney early on can help achieve a better investigation because the evidence is still fresh and the attorney will have time to consult with an expert.
Medical Malpractice Cases are Extremely Complicated and Require a Skilled Attorney to Help Victims Achieve the Results They Need and Deserve.
Victims who have suffered injuries due to the improper administration of anesthesia during a surgical procedure deserve to be represented by an attorney with the experience, skill, and work-ethic necessary to achieve the best possible result. For decades, Slade McLaughlin and Paul Lauricella have represented clients in medical malpractice cases and have secured large settlements and jury verdicts on their behalf. If you, or a loved one, have suffered injuries or complications caused by anesthesia, contact McLaughlin & Lauricella, P.C. for your free and confidential consultation today.