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Anesthesia error rates high in perioperative phase

Patients heading into surgery in Iowa hospitals are most likely grateful for the possibility of anesthesia to make the procedure as painless as possible. Though anesthesia provides many benefits before, during and after a surgical procedure, patients also should be aware of the accompanying risks.

According to Medscape, minor complications from anesthesia are common among patients and may include a sore throat, pain or discomfort around the site of the incision, nausea and vomiting. Severe complications, such as malignant hyperthermia and fatality, are quite rare. Nevertheless, anesthesiologists must prepare patients prior to the operation and remain vigilant to avoid errors and identify any worrisome physiological changes as a result of anesthesia.

In a recent study published in Anesthesiology, a research team trained in anesthesia spent eight months observing 277 randomly selected operations in a renowned academic medical facility. The team documented adverse drug events and medication errors and came up with some concerning results.

The findings indicated that within this facility, MEs and ADEs occurred in every other operation and in one out of every 20 administrations of medication during the perioperative period. The rates of error were higher for longer procedures and those that required more frequent medication administrations. Of the errors observed, two thirds were potentially harmful for patients, and the remaining incidents in fact caused harm to the patient.

The researchers emphasized that the nature of the perioperative setting, which is fast-paced and stressful, leads to higher incidents of MEs. Furthermore, the safety checks implemented in other areas of the hospital with regard to the administration of medication are often skipped during the perioperative period.

Previous studies have identified errors in drug administration as the most common mistakes in anesthesia. However, little research has been conducted into MEs within the perioperative setting. Much of the existing literature relies on the willingness and ability of anesthesiologists and other health care providers to identify and report their own errors and thus may not reflect the true rates of perioperative incidents. 

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