Study finds that one in four surgical errors relate to equipment issues

Malfunctioning technology or missing equipment may lead to unforeseen errors in the operating room. Researchers in a new study found that as many as 16 percent of patients admitted to hospitals suffer from medical mistakes. About 50 percent of the mistakes happen during surgery.

After a comparison of 28 prior studies, the researchers found that many errors relate to technology failure or the equipment available in operating rooms. Equipment failure was behind 24 percent of errors. Operations, such as heart surgeries, that depend on technology had higher rates of equipment failure than more general surgeries.

Medical malpractice claims based on equipment failure account for between 12 and 18 percent of malpractice cases. The study concluded that device checks prior to surgery could prevent some of the errors.

Preoperative checklists may reduce error rates

Complex operations require a well-coordinated team to avoid common errors. A checklist is one way to make sure that all the necessary equipment is in the operating room. Testing for technical glitches prior to the surgery also allows time to fix the equipment.

The World Health Organization developed a Surgical Safety Checklist as a way to ensure safe surgeries and minimize complications. In Michigan, a narrower ICU checklist targeting central line-associated bloodstream infections resulted in fewer infections.

The WHO checklist requires the involvement of the surgeon, anesthetist and nursing team. There are three steps:

  • "Sign in" occurs before the patient receives anesthesia. Initial information such as patient identification, operation site and anesthesia equipment is double-checked.
  • A "Time out" before the surgery allows for team introductions and review of any critical steps.
  • "Sign out" occurs after the procedure, but before the patient leaves the operating room. This allows the team to check the counts of instruments to make sure nothing is missing and address concerns for recovery.

These verifications ideally occur not only prior to a procedure, but anytime a patient transfers between caregivers, such as during a nursing shift change. Initial pilots showed the checklists decreased the number of complications and deaths caused by surgical errors.

Finding the cause of a medical complication can be difficult. A hospital or clinic will not always admit that an error occurred. Contacting an experienced medical malpractice attorney is one way to uncover whether an error was to blame. You may also be able to recover monetary damages to cover medical care during recovery and lost wages when you are not able to work.