Going under the knife for surgery is a dangerous proposition. People can and do have severe adverse reactions to anesthesia, which can sometimes be fatal. Each human body varies from the next, so the potential exists for severe bleeding due to an unusually placed artery or vein. Any surgery can result in complications, including infections. Then, of course, there’s the worst-case scenario, which is that your surgeon can make a mistake while you’re in his or her care.

All kinds of mistakes happen in the operating room. Sometimes machinery, tools or cotton swabs get left in a patient after surgery. These items can cause infection or septic shock. In some cases, they can physically damage tissue and organs nearby. Surgeons could perform the wrong procedure or even operate on the wrong part of the body. When these mistakes happen, second surgeries are often necessary to correct the initial mistake.

Hospitals take special steps to avoid surgical mistakes

There are many cases of surgeries where a doctor operated on the wrong side of the body. For example, a woman who needed her left ovary removed wakes up to learn that the surgery removed the healthy right ovary. Other times, patient mix-ups happen, when a doctor performs an appendectomy on someone who had been waiting for a completely different procedure.

When a person needs to have an extremity, limb or other body part removed or operated on, hospitals often have special procedures in place. These could include having the patient mark his or her own body to indicate which side requires the surgery. Doctors could also call in a second professional to review records and confirm that they are about to operate on the correct area. Bar codes on hospital identification bands and physical charts can also reduce these kinds of mistakes.

Other professionals on site can reduce error risks

Just like having someone double-check notes and surgical sites before starting, relying on nurses and surgical aides for help can reduce mistakes. A rushed doctor in an under-staffed operating room is much more likely to make mistakes, like leaving behind cotton or even a surgical implement inside a patient.

An extra set of eyes to review each step can help but nothing can completely eliminate the risk of a surgical mistake.

Surgical mistakes can have serious consequences

For patients who suffer a surgical mistake, the medical fallout can be severe. Second, even third procedures may be necessary to correct the mistake and then complete the initial procedure as planned. The healing process can end up taking longer when multiple surgeries are needed.

Patients can also experience long-term consequences, such as loss of fertility if the wrong tissue was removed or reduced mobility if tissue ended up damaged. When a surgical mistake costs a patient money or impacts his or her quality of life, it may be time to consider filing a medical malpractice claim.