The Law Offices of John Phebus

Preventing anesthetic errors during surgery

Arizona patients may be interested to learn that an improved procedure has been developed to help prevent wrong-side anesthetic blocks from being performed on patients who are being prepared for surgery. Although wrong-sided blocks are not considered to be as problematic as wrong-sided surgeries, they can still considered to be an invasive surgery and can result in complications.

In one example at a North Carolina, a surgeon initialed the site where the anesthetic block was supposed to go as per procedure. The initials were put on the inside of the knee as the patient was scheduled to have a right total knee arthroplasty. When the anesthesiologist began to move the patient to give the block, they found that the initials had transferred to the inside of the opposite knee through sweat on the knees touching each other.

Although this could have potentially resulted in a medical error, a modification was made to the protocol to help prevent any potential mistakes in the future. The improved protocol would include a review of the surgical consent and a visualization of the surgical site. After this is double-checked against the electronic medical records, the anesthesiologist then also marks the site with their initials and the word "BLOCK." This marking must remain visible at all times while the patient is being moved. After a re-timeout, the preoperative nurse can give the needle to the anesthesiologist so the block can be performed.

Surgical errors can range from obvious ones such as operating on the wrong limb to less-noticeable ones such as the North Carolina example. All of them have the potential to cause significant harm, and a patient who has been the victim of one may want to meet with an attorney to see if the error rose to the level of compensable medical malpractice.

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