Whenever anesthesiology is involved in a medical procedure, the patient should be informed that there is always some level of risk involved. When we are under general anesthesia, doctors are typically using a combination of inhaled and intravenous drugs to put us in a sleep-like state. As common as it sounds, anesthesiology is a serious matter. It requires specialized skills, dexterity, expert decision making, problem-solving ability, and teamwork. For all of us, anesthesia comes with a risk of overdose of anesthetics and medical complications. For the elderly or pregnant, there is an even greater risk.
Anesthesia & the Elderly
Aging is associated with weakened function and resiliency of major organs, and surgical procedures requiring anesthesia can put considerable strain on these systems. Unfortunately, the reality is that we tend to need more surgeries as we get older. It’s vital for doctors to fully understand the elderly patient’s organ function to form a proper anesthesiology plan to minimize the risk of organ failure. Anesthesia (and surgery in general) have greater adverse effects on the brains of the elderly compared to younger patients, including “a higher prevalence of postoperative delirium and cognitive dysfunction,” according to the medical journal Anaesthesia. This research highlighted that the elderly face a significant risk of cognitive decline, especially if the medical professionals do not conduct adequate monitoring.
Anesthesia & Pregnancy
The need for surgical interventions is about the same in pregnant women as the general population, but anesthetic challenges are much greater. Doctors must consider the safety of both the mother and the fetus. Without communication and collaboration among the team of obstetricians, neonatologists, and the anesthesiologist, there is serious risk of serious injury or death to the mother and the fetus.
Three Common Causes of Anesthesia Injuries or Death
- Unavoidable injury. There is inherent risk in medical procedures, especially those that include anesthesia. It is the duty of medical professionals to inform patients on the potential risks of any procedure. In some of those situations, the doctor and patient understand that the surgical remedy, including anesthesia, carries a significant risk of death, but the risk of inaction is worse. In some of these situations, the injury or death is unavoidable.
- Lack of communication. Anesthesiologists need to have excellent communication with patients, their families, and medical colleagues. According to the medical paper, Root Cause Analysis of Blunders in Anesthesia, “Part of the disconnect is that surgeons deal with a diagnosis requiring surgical intervention, while anesthesiologists deliver anesthesia to facilitate a surgery while simultaneously keeping risky patients organs viable.” Good communications skills are not something that everyone is born with, but it can be taught. A survey at a neuroanesthesia conference found that 82% of delegates felt that communication skills training should be made mandatory in the curriculum.
- Negligence. There are a number of things that can go wrong during anesthesiology. An incorrect dose can lead to oversedation or undersedation. In a case of undersedation, the patient could wake up during surgery, jeopardizing the safety of the procedure. The wrong type of anesthesia can be administered. An area, such as an eye or a critical nerve, can be injured during the injection of anesthesia. There can be mistakes made when using unfamiliar medical equipment. If the anesthesiologist deviates from the standard of medical care, jeopardizing the health of the patient, it enters territory that can be considered negligence, especially if there is carelessness or a lack of vigilance. It could be negligent if they failed to account for the patient’s medical history, leading to dangerous reactions to anesthesia. There could be dangerous known interactions between the anesthesia and any current prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, supplements, or patient allergies. There could be a failure to consider the patient’s health history or a failure to monitor the patient’s vital signs during surgery, leading to a preventable heart attack or stroke.
There are risks involved in surgery and anesthesia, and not every negative outcome is due to negligence or medical malpractice. Medical professionals perform lifesaving work every day, and they deserve our gratitude and respect. However, the medical system in the United States is also a business, and when that business is facing a mistake that could mean millions of dollars in damages, it can be difficult to get the truth as to what went wrong and why. If your loved one was the victim of a serious injury or death during anesthesia, you should contact an attorney who has the expertise to get the truth. A Maryland medical malpractice attorney can force the doctor or hospital to provide records of what happened and have that information examined by experts to determine if malpractice occurred. In situations where malpractice is identified, our experts will calculate all of financial damages that the victims will need to make things right for themselves and their families. We cannot undo the past, but we can help pave the way for a brighter future. For a free, no-obligation consultation, please call Brown & Barron at (410) 698-1717 or contact us online by clicking here.