The American Association of Justice (AAJ) recently released an article discussing what the country would be like without a civil justice system. In honor of that work we have been addressing various parts of the medical field and how patients would be much worse off without the medical malpractice portion of the civil justice system. This week we are addressing malpractice in anesthesiology.
Medical Malpractice Law Has Decreased Malpractice in Anesthesiology
The purpose of the medical malpractice system is two-fold. First, it allows a mechanism through which people who are injured by malpractice to receive compensation for their injuries. This can include compensation for lost income, medical bills, loss of companionship, pain and suffering, and other types of losses. It is a very important purpose for the individuals who are injured, but that is all. The other purposes, however, benefits everyone within a society. It does this by creating a strong incentive for doctors to avoid malpractice. When doctors (or their insurers) are forced to pay for malpractice, they take actions to prevent malpractice from happening.
The field of anesthesiology is the perfect example of this. According to the AAJ’s report, medical malpractice cases increased the costs of anesthesiologist’s insurance premiums. So industry-wide, anesthesiologists took steps to decrease malpractice within the field. As a result, the number of malpractice claims in the industry diminished by fifty percent, and ultimately insurance premiums dropped as well. So in the long run, fewer patients are injured and anesthesiologists actually save money.
What Happens When Anesthesiology Goes Wrong
Had this never happened, more people would be subjected to anesthesiological malpractice. And this could be deadly. According to a report by Time Magazine, anesthesia is particularly risky for older patients and patients with heart problems or high blood pressure. While complications due to anesthesia are now pretty rare, but when they happen they can be deadly. According to the Mayo Clinic, complications from anesthesia can include lung infections, strokes, heart attacks, and even death.
The Mayo Clinic also acknowledges that there is the rare but terrifying possibility of waking up from anesthesia in the middle of surgery. While most patients that happens to cannot feel pain, some of them can. And due to muscle relaxants that are given prior to surgery, these patients are unable to move or speak to allow the doctors and nurses to know what has happened, so their trauma continues until someone notices. When this happens it is referred to in the medical profession as “unintended intraoperative awareness.” And one of the things that makes unintended intraoperative awareness more likely is anesthesiologist error, including a failure to monitor the patient or failure to measure the amount of anesthesia in the patient’s system through the procedure. In other words, malpractice can be directly responsible for people waking up in the middle of surgery, and the civil justice system helps prevent malpractice.
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