Does Surgical Start Time Lead to Medical Errors?

Study links late-night surgery to risk of complications

A new study finds that the time a neurosurgical procedure is performed affects whether the patient experiences complications.

According to a report in Neurosurgery, patients who undergo surgical procedures between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. are at an increased risk of developing complications compared to those who are treated during day hours. Neurosurgical procedures include operations on the brain and surgeries involving the nervous system.

The study, as reported in ScienceDaily, was the first of its kind to focus on neurosurgical procedures performed at night. Previous studies have also found links between complications and night surgeries involving a variety of procedures, including colorectal, transplants, orthopedic surgery, coronary angioplasty and treatment of cardiac arrest patients.

Whether the surgeon and his or her team is tired and prone to surgical errors is a question not raised in the study. Separate research, however, has found medical staff fatigue to be one of the possible risk factors of night surgery, according to an article in ScienceDaily.

But the lead author of the recent neurosurgical study, Aditya Pandey, said the new research raises several questions that must be addressed by the medical community. Quoted in ScienceDaily, Pandey said: “Could it mean that health systems need to invest more with respect to increasing the number of surgical teams and operating rooms to allow for greater proportion of surgeries to be performed during day hours and that urgent cases should be stabilized and performed during day hours? These are important questions that must be raised as we continue to solidify the relationship between surgical start time and surgical complications.”

Researchers concluded that surgical start time affects risk for medical errors

The study looked at 15,807 patients who underwent neurological procedures between 2007 and 2014 in the University of Michigan Health System. Researchers found 785 complications that were reported by faculty and resident neurosurgeons.

Patients who underwent surgeries at night faced a significantly higher risk of complications compared to patients who had surgeries between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The odds of a complication were 50 percent greater. The odds of a complication were even greater when accounting for the length of the surgery.

Researchers noted that many elective surgeries – non-emergency procedures – are scheduled during the day. Night surgeries were dominated by emergency treatment. A patient facing an emergency surgery generally has more health problems than someone going in for elective surgery. However, the study found that the patient’s odds of having a complication with a night surgery increased significantly even after accounting for whether the operation was an elective or emergency surgery.

Our Syracuse attorneys agree that this research raises several questions about patient treatment.

As the lead author of the study concludes, hospitals may need to consider stabilizing a patient at night and postponing surgery until the next day. They may need to hire more medical staff, including surgeons, and increase the number of operating rooms available during the day to accommodate the additional surgeries.

Patients who undergo any type of surgery – whether it’s emergency brain surgery or an elective colonoscopy – deserve the best treatment possible. They should never have to worry whether the time of their surgery will affect the outcome.

If you or a loved one underwent surgery and suffered complications, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact Cherundolo Law Firm, PLLC, for a free consultation. Call (315) 449-9500 or complete the online contact form.

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