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The Most Common Surgical Errors

No patient imagines a surgical error could happen while he or she lies on the operating table. However, surgeons and their staff members are only human and accidents happen. In a safe operating room environment, preventable patient injuries would not occur. Yet hospitals around the country employ negligent, reckless and dangerous health care personnel that put patients’ lives at risk. Learn how to recognize the most common surgical errors to understand your right to a medical malpractice claim in Virginia with the help of a Richmond surgical errors attorney.

Retained Surgical Bodies

A retained surgical body is an instrument, tool or material a surgeon accidentally forgets inside the patient’s body cavity. Retained surgical bodies such as sponges, scissors or gauze can cause serious injuries and complications for the patient. Many patients with retained objects notice issues such as stomach pain, bloody stools, hemorrhaging or infections. Retained surgical bodies should not happen with proper communication and care in the operating room.

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Wrong Patient or Body Site

Some surgical errors are never events or types of medical malpractice that should never happen. These include operating on the wrong patient, wrong body part or wrong surgery. Mixing up surgical patients in a hospital could be detrimental to both patients. One will not receive the surgery he or she may need to survive, while the other undergoes an unnecessary and potentially irreversible procedure. Operating on the wrong body part can leave permanent scars the patient should not have had, as well as the need to undergo revision surgery on the correct body part.

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Wrong Procedure

Performing the incorrect procedure on a patient could happen due to communication errors or carelessness. Everyone in the operating room must obey the hospital’s communication protocols before an operation. Failing to double-check the patient’s name and type of procedure could lead to a serious mishap such as completing the wrong operation on a person. This never event could cause a patient with significant physical and emotional harm.

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Anesthesia Errors

The surgeon is not the only person in the operating room during a procedure. A successful operation takes a team of health care personnel, including an anesthesiologist. The anesthesiologist is in charge of mixing the correct type and dosage of anesthesia for the particular patient based on his or her age, weight, medical history, and many other factors. During the procedure, the anesthesiologist must monitor the patient to make sure the flow of anesthesia remains correct and constant.

An anesthesia error could refer to an intubation mistake, too much anesthesia, the wrong type, or too little anesthesia. Intubation errors at the start of a procedure could cut off the patient’s oxygen supply, causing brain damage. Too much anesthesia could also cause permanent brain damage. Supplying too little anesthesia to a patient could lead to anesthesia awareness, an uncommon but traumatic experience in which the patient is awake and can feel sensations, but cannot move or speak.

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Nicked Nerves or Arteries

A negligent or incompetent surgeon could nick an artery and cause uncontrollable bleeding or hemorrhaging within a patient during an operation. This type of mistake could turn even a simple procedure deadly for a patient. Accidently severing or damaging a nerve could also cause serious patient injuries. Impacting a nerve could permanently interfere with a patient’s ability to feel the affected area.


An infection could arise out of surgical errors such as dropping tools on the ground, failing to properly sanitize the operating room before a procedure or negligently failing to care for a patient’s incision site post-operation. Infections can be fatal for a patient who is in recovery after surgery. Infections of the body, blood or brain could permanently impact a patient or lead to a poor prognosis for recovery. Surgeons, nurses, assistants and everyone else involved in a patient’s care must all work together to prevent infections and other surgical errors.

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