November 1, 2013

162017_132140396847214_292624_nA study published online on July 25, 2013 in BMJ Quality & Safety found that 1 in 4 operating room errors were due to technology or equipment issues. The researchers found that approximately 15 errors occur during a typical surgical procedure and that failure of equipment accounted for approximately 24% of those errors. The researchers also found that surgical procedures that heavily rely on technology have higher rates of equipment issues than general surgeries.

The researchers searched the medical literature regarding errors and adverse events that occurred in the operating room. Their search turned up 19,362 results. They then looked at 124 published studies of operating room errors and adverse events from which they selected 28 of the studies. From those studies, the researchers determined that the median total errors per procedure were 15.5 and that the failures of equipment or technology accounted for 23.5% of the total errors (the median number of equipment problems per procedure was 0.9). The researchers were able to further divide equipment failures based on eight of the studies and determined that equipment availability accounted for 37.3%; configuration and settings errors accounted for 43.4%; and, direct malfunctioning of equipment accounted for 33.5%.

On the positive side, the researchers found that the use of checklists, the use of briefing tools, and conducting staff training reduced equipment errors by 48.6%, with a mean reduction of 60.7% in three studies where specific equipment checklists were used.

The researchers concluded, “Equipment-related failures form a substantial proportion of all error occurring in the OR. Those procedures that rely more heavily on technology may bear a higher proportion of equipment-related error. There is clear benefit in the use of preoperative checklist-based systems. We propose the adoption of an equipment check, which may be incorporated into the current WHO checklist.”


Because surgical patients are typically unconscious or otherwise sedated during procedures performed in the operating room, they are often unaware when they are injured or what caused their injuries. Medical records from the operating room, the surgeon, and the anesthesiologist may intentionally fail to mention when equipment failures or technology failures have occurred that caused injuries to patients. Some patients may even be told that their surgical complications were “just one of those things” that is “a known risk of surgery.”

While the occurrence of known risks of surgery may not be the result of medical negligence, equipment failure or technology failure may be the result of negligent medical errors or negligent medical mistakes that were avoidable had proper procedures and care been implemented before, during, and following surgery.

Because it may be difficult for you to determined what caused your surgical injuries and whether medical negligence caused or contributed to the harms you suffered, it is important that you promptly seek the legal advice of a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate whether medical errors or medical mistakes were the cause of your suffering and who may represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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