a nurse prepares to administer anesthesia | Coplan and Crane

What Are the Most Common Anesthesia Errors?

June 6, 2023

Anesthesia errors affect numerous patients throughout the United States every year. Anesthesia plays an important role in modern medicine. It allows doctors to safely perform surgical procedures, and it allows patients to get the treatment they need without pain. 

But, like any medical procedure, administering anesthesia is not without risks. While some of these risks are inherent (i.e., an unknown allergy to an anesthetic agent), others relate to possible mistakes during administration. While these mistakes can—and should—be avoided, many patients who receive anesthesia find themselves needing to talk to a lawyer about pursuing a medical malpractice claim.

At Coplan + Crane, our medical malpractice attorneys have extensive experience helping the wrongfully injured in Chicago and throughout Illinois. If you or a loved one suffered at the hands of a medical professional, we want to hear your story. We handle medical negligence cases on a contingency basis, which means you don’t pay unless we win.

5 Common Anesthesia Errors in the Medical Setting

If you are dealing with the consequences of an anesthesia error, pursuing a medical malpractice claim will start with determining the specific error that led to your (or your loved one’s) complications. To make this determination, your medical malpractice lawyer will speak with you, review your medical records, and consult with experts who can explain what should have happened in the doctor’s office or hospital to ensure proper anesthesia administration. 

While there are many types of anesthesia errors, some are more common than others. For example, five of the most common types of anesthesia errors include:

Read More: Anesthesia Errors and Medical Malpractice 

1. Anesthesia Dosage Errors 

Dosage errors are easily among the most common mistakes made during anesthesia administration. These errors can involve administering either too much or too little anesthesia based on a patient’s weight, overall health condition, and other factors. Inexperience and carelessness can both lead to dosage errors, and they can both justify claims for medical malpractice. 

Administering too much anesthesia can be extremely dangerous. Depending on the anesthetic, potential consequences can include seizure, stroke, brain damage, and even death. Administering too little anesthesia can result in anesthesia awareness—leaving the patient unable to communicate while experiencing the excruciating pain of his or her medical procedure. 

2. Delayed Anesthesia Administration 

Delayed anesthesia administration can have similar effects to underdosing. Additionally, if an anesthesiologist rushes to administer an anesthetic following a delay, this can increase the risk of additional mistakes (and additional complications). Before beginning any medical procedure that involves anesthesia administration, the surgeon or treating physician, the anesthesiologist, and everyone else involved should ensure that they are prepared to move forward in line with their duty of care. 

3. Administering the Wrong Anesthetic 

There are several different types of anesthetics. Each type is intended for use under a specific set of circumstances and must be administered in a particular way. Administering the wrong anesthetic can have severe consequences as well; and, here too, adequate preparation is key. Patient mix-ups can also lead to administering the wrong anesthetic; and, despite being alarmingly common, these are mistakes that can—and should—be easily avoided. 

4. Failure to Intubate

Failure to intubate is a common—and dangerous—anesthesia error as well. As explained by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), “Difficult intubation is still a significant problem in current clinical anesthesia practice. When it is associated with impaired ventilation and inadequate brain oxygenation, it can lead to brain damage within just a few minutes.”

AHRQ identifies several factors that can lead to intubation failures. These include (among others):

  • Inadequate preoperative assessment of the patient’s airway
  • Inadequate preparation for intubation before administering anesthesia 
  • Inadequate access to (or training with) advanced airway management equipment

As AHRQ also notes, “The primary responsibility for ensuring the adequacy of the patient’s oxygenation and ventilation during any surgical procedure lies with the anesthesiologist.” Thus, if a patient suffers brain damage or other complications due to an intubation failure, the patient (or the patient’s family) may have grounds to file a medical malpractice claim with the anesthesiologist’s insurer. 

5. Failure to Monitor Following Anesthesia Administration

Once a patient is under anesthesia, the patient must be carefully monitored for signs of complications or distress. If a patient exhibits any of these signs, prompt intervention may be necessary to prevent pain or injury. 

Careful monitoring is also necessary once a patient regains consciousness. The lingering effects of anesthesia can present risks ranging from dizziness (resulting in fall-related injuries) to chronic pain and brain damage. As a result, failure to adequately monitor a patient post-anesthesia can also constitute medical malpractice. 

Did You Suffer an Anesthesia Error? Talk to a Lawyer for FREE.

If you believe you may have a medical malpractice claim related to an anesthesia error, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. For a FREE, no-obligation consultation, call (708) 358-8080 or tell us how we can reach you online today.