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What factors can lead to an anesthesia-related death?

If something goes wrong with a surgery or a minor medical procedure and the patient dies, could the anesthesiologist be to blame? What factors could lead to a patient's death from anesthesia-related complications?

In recent years, anesthesia has become safer than ever, with the rate of complication dropping from 11.8 percent in 2010 to only 4.8 percent in 2013. However, the death rate from anesthesia complications remained the same, at about three per 10,000 procedures.

There are a couple of different possible causes of anesthesia mistakes:

-- A failure to do a complete review of the patient's medical history.

Some patients are simply at higher risk of injury or death than others because they already have health complications like high blood pressure, sleep apnea or medication allergies.

An anesthesiologist should always interview the patient personally and evaluate the patient's medical history prior to performing the procedure, rather than relying on information that is solely in the chart or relayed by others. That helps cut down on the risk of a miscommunication that could lead to mistakes. If an anesthesiologist is rushed, he or she could fail to take into account everything that needs to be considered when administering the anesthetics, including things like the patient's age, weight and prior history with anesthesia.

-- Inadequate experience and training for the level of care needed for a particular patient.

Not every anesthesiologist has the same level of experience and skill. High-risk patients should only be handled by an anesthesiologist who has had significant practical experience. If an anesthesiologist feels that a particular patient is beyond his or her skill level, the case should be referred to someone else, even if the surgery needs to be delayed.

Someone who is inexperienced can end up giving a patient too much anesthesia, insert the tubing incorrectly or use the wrong medication.

Any anesthesia-related death should be viewed with suspicion and examined for possible medical malpractice. If you aren't sure what happened and you aren't getting clear answers from the hospital or surgical staff, it could be a sign of malpractice. An attorney can advise you as to your legal options to learn more about what happened.

Source: Mayo Clinic, "General anesthesia risks," accessed Dec. 30, 2016

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