Warning Signs of Potential Surgical Errors

Debra Riley


While some surgeries are elective, others are essential for the health and safety of the patient. Surgeries range considerably in terms of their complexity and difficulty to perform, but there is always at least some measure of risk to a surgical procedure.

Even with the best planning and skilled surgeons, errors may occur that put the patient at risk of serious injury or even death.

While some complications may arise due to unforeseen circumstances or underlying health conditions, there may be warning signs of a problem that an experienced medical team can detect and act upon to prevent injury. 

Let’s get started.

surgical errors

Preparing for a Surgery

The period leading up to surgery is crucial for ensuring a smooth and safe operation. Some things that can expose a patient to unnecessary risk include:

  • Incomplete or unclear preoperative instructions 
  • Miscommunication about allergies or medications
  • Inadequate patient education regarding the surgery and its risks

In some cases, errors of this nature may be so egregious that they constitute a form of medical malpractice. Before surgery, ensure you or your loved one are aware of the upcoming procedure, potential complications, and post-operative care plan.

Ask the doctor or surgeon for clarification before proceeding if there is any uncertainty. It’s important to feel fully informed before proceeding.

Communication Breakdowns & Equipment Issues Can Cause Harm

Most surgical teams work diligently to protect their patient’s health and ensure the best chance of a successful outcome. However, some situations may raise concerns about the team’s behavior or professionalism.

Poor communication within the operating room can be a significant problem, as this increases the chances of an error.

This includes unclear verbal instructions, missing information about the patient’s medical history, or failure to confirm the patient’s identity and procedure details before starting the surgery.

During the surgery itself, equipment problems can arise and jeopardize the success of the operation. Power failures, malfunctioning instruments, or a lack of necessary tools can disrupt the procedure and put the patient’s life in serious danger.

There have been cases where surgeries were carried out with inadequate equipment, leading to poor patient outcomes. 

Monitoring for Excessive Bleeding & Infection of the Surgical Site

Close monitoring after surgery is a must, as this allows for medical intervention if issues are discovered. To some degree, bleeding is expected after a surgical procedure.

However, excessive blood loss during or after the procedure, the formation of large blood clots (hematomas), or the need for further medical intervention to control bleeding can hint that an error was made during the surgery.

It is possible that a surgical site will become infected through simple misfortune, but in some cases, an error may be the root of this problem as well.

Signs of infection include swelling, redness, fever, or pus-like discharge at the site of the surgery. 

surgery tools

Warning Signs Related to Anesthesia

Anesthesia plays a vital role in modern surgical procedures, as it allows the patient to go through the experience without pain or discomfort. However, complications can arise due to the surgical team’s actions, or lack thereof.

Anesthesia awareness occurs when patients are partially or fully conscious during surgery despite being under general anesthesia. Although it is believed that patients will still rarely experience pain in this state, the experience can still be deeply upsetting and frightening. Additional problems related to anesthesia include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Under- or overdosage
  • Adverse drug reactions between anesthetics and other prescription medications

Delayed Recovery & Persistent Symptoms 

The recovery period is a time for healing from the aftermath of surgery. However, certain issues may require further evaluation by your doctor or surgeon.

If you experience a significantly longer recovery time than anticipated, unexpected pain that persists despite medication,  or complications not typically associated with the surgery, speak to a medical professional as soon as possible.

If you become aware of persistent or worsening symptoms, new or unexpected symptoms that your doctor did not warn you about, or the need for subsequent medical care that was not expected, a surgical error may have contributed to the situation. 

surgery in process

Staying Safe During Surgery

Not every complication or unexpected event necessarily indicates a surgical error. In some cases, everything may have been done correctly and an adverse situation occurred through no fault of anyone involved.

However, if you experience any of the warning signs discussed in this article, be sure to seek assistance right away. Your doctor can provide clarification and additional care to keep you in good health.