Articles Posted in Anesthesia

A northern Virginia man successfully sued a doctor for defamation and medical malpractice, earlier this month receiving a judgment of $500,000 for the serious – and, frankly, weird – ethical and medical harm he suffered during a colonoscopy.

The case is weird because “defamation” is something plaintiffs who are medically harmed don’t often claim, and also because the proof of both the defamation and the malpractice was recorded by the man’s phone. During the procedure, he was under general anesthetic and dressed only in the standard hospital gown.

As the Washington Post explained,

“Because he was going to be fully anesthetized, the man decided to turn on his cellphone’s audio recorder before the procedure so it would capture the doctor’s post-operation instructions, the suit states. But the man’s phone, in his pants, was placed beneath him under the operating table and inadvertently recorded the audio of the entire procedure, court records show. The doctors’ attorneys argued that the recording was illegal, but the man’s attorneys noted that Virginia is a ‘one-party consent’ state, meaning that only one person involved in a conversation need agree to the recording.”

When you’re anesthetized and under the knife in an operating room, you assume your surgical team is concentrating on you, not texting on an iPad. For one heart patient, however, that assumption was wrong.

Pacific Standard Magazine’s unsettling review of distractions during medical procedures described the circumstances of a malpractice case in Texas when a 61-year-old woman died after a relatively low-risk cardiac procedure to correct her irregular heartbeat.

Dr. Christopher Spillers, the anesthesiologist, had been using his iPad throughout the operation. In his deposition in a subsequent malpractice lawsuit, the surgeon testified that the anesthesiologist hadn’t noticed the patient’s dangerously low blood-oxygen levels until “15 or 20 minutes” after she “turned blue.”

Propofol is a surgical anesthetic safely used only in a hospital operating room or a comparably equipped medical facility with continuous monitoring of the patient’s heart rate and breathing. The idea of using propofol as a sleep aid in a private home, with a doctor occasionally looking in? Unthinkable, before Michael Jackson’s death.

Now Dr. Conrad Murray has been convicted of manslaughter for his role in Jackson’s death. Murray was supposed to be Jackson’s personal doctor, a unique physician with only one patient, who was paid $150,000 a month by Jackson’s concert agency to keep the singer healthy.

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor violates basic patient safety rules and causes harm to a patient. But this was much worse. Dr. Murray was guilty not just of breaking rules, but of a fundamental conflict of interest. Apparently seduced by his large monthly salary, he threw his medical judgment out the window and let Michael Jackson wheedle him into dangerous and ultimately fatal behavior with powerful prescription drugs. If he had “just said no,” like any ethical, responsible physician would have done, Jackson presumably would have shopped for some other doctor to supply him drugs. But then Jackson’s death would have been on some other hands, and Murray would not be facing prison and loss of his medical license.

No surgical patient wants to experience, or remember, the details of their operation, and the drugs given to put patients to sleep generally work nicely to create a blank slate in the mind for anything that happened after the anesthesiologist told the patient to start counting backward. But not always.

As many as 1 in 100 patients reports afterward that he or she was awake during the surgery, and can recount details of what was heard that make it clear it wasn’t a dream. The psychic injury is worse because the paralysis that accompanies anesthesia usually means that aware patients can do nothing to signal to the doctor that they can hear what is going on.

Sometimes these patients are psychologically traumatized enough (with post-traumatic stress disorder) that they end up in the office of a malpractice lawyer like me, asking if they have a legitimate claim against the anesthesiologist or the surgeon.

It was supposed to be a routine hernia operation. But then the surgeon ordered the anesthesiologist to give the patient a blood-thinning drug. The anesthesiologist, who wasn’t familiar with the drug, injected the drug directly into the patient’s i.v. line, as soon as the surgeon ordered it. That was a double mistake, and it started a cascade of consequences for the patient, who later became our law firm’s client.

The legal issue in the medical malpractice lawsuit we filed was: Who was responsible for the misuse of the drug? Just the anesthesiologist, who should have known better than to inject the drug intravenously, and so soon? Or the surgeon too?

That issue was finally resolved this week in our client’s favor. Here is what happened.

A wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit has been filed against a Vancouver, Wa., pain clinic by four plaintiffs who allege the clinic prescribed excessive amounts of pain medications, causing overdose deaths and addictions.

The estates of two patients who died of opiate overdoses are suing Vancouver Payette Clinic in Clark County, Wa., circuit court, along with two other plantiffs who allege the clinic prescribed them “grossly excessive” amounts of controlled substances that caused physical and mental injuries.

“Payette Clinic practitioners knew or had reason to know that the massive quantities of controlled substances they were prescribing were either being diverted by patients and sold in the illegal drug market, or being taken by their patients at great risk to the patient’s own health,” the suit says.

A new patient safety organization has launched a range of online tools and other resources to reduce abuse of opioids by identifying the risks associated with their use. The materials from the CARES Alliance (Collaborating & Acting Responsibly to Ensure Safety) include several “safe-use” programs, tools and educational materials for patients, caregivers and healthcare providers.

They were developed using Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA), a scientific methodology that identifies where problems occur in the use of pain medications and the underlying causes of those problems. The FMEA research identified 79 areas where problems occur in the use of opioidsand 290 potential causes of those failures.

Tools now available include clinical materials and risk assessments for physicians, safe-use guides for patients and general education for all groups. The organization also plans to develop additional tools based on the research.

Nurse anesthetists have been proven to deliver about as safe and high quality care as physician anesthesiologists, but there’s still a key question every patient should ask before being put to sleep by a nurse anesthetist.

“Is there a doctor anesthesiologist nearby in case there’s an emergency during my surgery?”

That’s the question you need to get answered. In most hospitals and many free-standing surgery centers, the answer will be, “Of course, we wouldn’t dream of putting patients to sleep without an anesthesiologist supervising the anesthetists.” But in other facilities, particularly same-day surgery centers, the answer will be, “No, we don’t think it’s necessary.”

Healthcare providers need to know more about the efficacy and potency of hydromorphone, a pain killer frequently used as a morphine substitute in post-operative patients, to avoid medication errors and adverse drug reactions (ADR), says an advisory from the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PPSA).

Researchers hired by PPSA reviewed 1,694 medication error and 937 adverse event reports involving hydromorphone from January 2008 to October 2009. They identified lack of knowledge about hydromorphone potency and the difference in potency between morphine and hydromorphone as the most significant factors causing serious medication errors, particularly when a patient is switched from morphine to hydromorphone.

Hydromorphone is administered in doses that range from 0.4 mg to 2 mg, whereas patients may receive as much as 7-10 mg of morphine. Incorrect dosing may occur when prescribing, dispensing or administering hydromorphone when a physician, pharmacist or nurse confuses hydromorphone and morphine. Other medical errors noted in the study were giving patients the wrong drug and not noting a documented allergy.

The news from Colorado that a drug-addicted surgery technician had exposed thousands of patients to the Hepatitis-C virus raises questions about the institutions’ procedures for protecting patients.

According to news accounts, the surgery tech, Kristen Parker, swapped her dirty syringes, filled with saline, for clean ones filled with Fentanyl, in operating rooms at Rose Medical Center in Denver and Audubon Ambulatory Surgery Center in Colorado Springs. That way she could steal Fentanyl, a powerful morphine-based drug that is used for surgical anesthesia, and inject it into herself to feed her drug habit. Ms. Parker has just been charged in a federal criminal complaint.

The institutions are sending certified letters to 4,700 patients at Rose and 1,000 at Audubon advising them to get tested for Hepatitis-C. That’s because Ms. Parker tested positive for Hepatitis-C, and several patients already have tested positive.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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