When we come under the care of a medical specialist, we may have some understandable concerns. These may range from the doctor’s competence, to whether the doctor is properly and fully diagnosing what the problem is, to whether what the doctor is doing will actually cure or heal you.
Anesthesia and its Specialities
One area of medicine that is often overlooked when we undergo a procedure is anesthesia. Anesthesia is certainly a modern miracle, allowing numerous lifesaving procedures to be performed. While the anesthesia-related terms “put me to sleep” or “knock me out” may seem peaceful or innocuous, being anesthetized is a serious and heavy duty procedure that requires skill and attention from medical professionals.
Anesthesia is performed by an anesthesiologist, but in today’s medicine, there are even sub-specialties of anesthesia. Pediatric, obstetric, critical care, and long term pain management anesthesia are all sub-specialties, and if you or your condition fall into a category that requires specialization, it is important to know whether your anesthetist is familiar with that category.
Claims Involving Anesthesia Problems
The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) keeps statistics on insurance claims that arise from anesthesia malpractice or claims of medical malpractice. They cull these statistics from insurance companies, including those that specialize in insuring anesthesiologists.
The numbers show that by a wide margin, surgical anesthesia comprises most of the anesthesia malpractice claims, at 65% of the claims. Pain management was a distant second at 18%, but those numbers are on the rise as the need for chronic pain management, the usage of pain management clinics, and patients looking for options to back surgery increase.
Tragically, the types of injuries that come from anesthesia malpractice are severe. The leading consequence at 26% was death, with nerve injury being second at 22%. Permanent brain damage was third, at 9%.
Of the complications that did not involve death, but rather were limited to injury, injuries to the teeth and organs were first and second at 20.8% and 18.3%, respectively.
Monitored Care Concerns
Monitored Anesthesia Care (MAC) claims have been on the rise. MAC is a kind of sedation that is often used in surgical centers and dentist’s offices. It involves enough sedation that the patient is asleep, but easily arisen. In some cases, the patient may be conscious enough to respond to commands during the procedure. That, along with the fact that there is less actual medicine used, makes the process attractive to many.
The ease and popularity of the procedure may mean that physicians do not monitor patients as closely, or check them pre-procedure to make sure there are no underlying conditions that may cause complications with the anesthesia. Patients with special medical needs, such as the elderly or obese, who may require extra monitoring or special anesthesia care, may be especially vulnerable.
Just recently, an otherwise healthy teenager died during routine tooth extraction under MAC. The lawsuit that ensued alleged that the doctors failed to monitor the patient’s condition and observe when it seemed that he was not getting enough oxygen. Some point out how easy it is for an oral surgeon or dentist with little training in anesthesia, to administer and monitor complex and serious anesthesia medicines.
Because MAC is dependent on medications and not intubation, drug overdose cases are also common, accounting for 21% of MAC claims.
Intubation and Airway Problems
Airway obstruction from intubation during normal anesthesia is probably the most well known complication and most feared by patients. Rightfully so as well; death or brain damage are both common consequences of airway obstruction. However, these claims have been decreasing in recent years.
The teeth damage noted above is also a result of intubation problems. Elderly and infirm patients who may not seem like themselves after a procedure involving anesthesia should be checked for tooth damage, which may be an indicator of an intubation problem during surgery.
Risks to Youth
We are only beginning to understand the risks that anesthesia poses on infants and toddlers. The Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning about using anesthesia for kids aged three and under. The FDA warns that some studies have shown that procedures that last more than three hours, or those who undergo repeated surgeries involving anesthesia may be subject to long term learning disabilities.
Of course, there is also a risk in delaying or not providing procedures to young children who may need them. Physicians and anesthetists must always balance the risk in ordering anesthesia-involved surgeries against the risk of alternative non-invasive treatment.
Recognizing Anesthesiologist Malpractice
Anesthesia malpractice cases may be difficult to immediately recognize. Often, when things go wrong during a procedure, it may be reported as a “complication.” Surely, every procedure has risks, and complications can happen even when every medical procedure is performed properly.
Often, when “complications” occur, they are those that involve anesthesia, or else those that involve the failure to take into account a patient’s background or history before administering the anesthesia.
It is not uncommon to find after reviewing medical records that a patient indicated a sensitivity to a drug, a known heart condition, breathing problems, or something else in their medical history, which is not considered when administering the anesthesia.
In many cases surgical centers and cosmetic surgery centers may not be properly equipped to deal with anesthesia related complications. The time needed to recognize the problem, stabilize the patient, and get them to a real hospital, may lead to death or disability that would not have happened in an actual hospital.
You should also remember that anesthesiologists are doctors, covered under the malpractice laws and subject to the shorter malpractice statute of limitations. At the moment you suspect a problem after a surgery or medical procedure, you should begin to investigate or seek out legal representation to avoid having the lawsuit denied on the basis of being filed too late.
If you suspect a problem related to your medical care or after any medical procedure, contact attorneys that have the medical and legal knowledge to help analyze your case. Call Brill & Rinaldi for a free consultation to discuss your medical malpractice case.