Laparoscopic surgery involves using tiny incisions for the surgery instead of a larger opening. This allows the patient to recover faster than in open surgery. However, as with any type of surgery, it is not without risks.
What Is Laparoscopic Surgery?
In laparoscopic surgery, the surgeon uses tiny cuts, which allows the patient to heal faster than with traditional surgery. In this type of surgery, the surgeon uses a laparoscope, which is a very narrow tool that has a camera with a small light attached to its end.
This video camera is attached to a monitor that allows the surgeon to see what is happening inside the body. These tools allow the doctors to see as much as if they had made a larger opening without using a camera. Laparoscopic tools, such as the trocar, allow the surgeon to do more procedures without having to make such a large cut.
Before the surgery takes place, the technicians will inject gas into the abdomen. This will inflate the area so that the abdominal wall is not touching the organs and getting in the way. The exact surgical techniques that the medical team chooses to use will depend on why the surgery is being done and what the doctor hopes to accomplish with it.
Before laparoscopy was invented, doctors had to make large cuts in a patient’s abdomen so they could see inside the patient. These cuts were often six to 12 inches long and usually left permanent scarring at the site of the surgery. This type of surgery is known as laparotomy.
However, with this new type of surgery, doctors can make several small cuts that are often no more than about half an inch long. The surgeon can insert a tube through each of these small cuts, allowing the camera, light, and other special tools to perform the surgery.
For example, if a patient is having surgery done on his or her intestines, a traditional method of surgery may put the patient in the hospital for a week, while the recovery could last four to six weeks. However, with this new type of surgery, a patient may only stay a couple of days in the hospital, with recovery lasting only a few weeks.
Gynecologic Laparoscopic Surgery
In the field of gynecology, this type of surgery is an alternative to open surgeries for patients. A gynecologist can use this type of surgery to perform a hysterectomy, which involves removing the uterus. It is a less invasive procedure for gynecology patients.
Uses of Laparoscopy
This type of surgery is often used so that doctors can see internal organs better. There are several reasons why a patient may require this type of surgery:
- To better see an unusual tumor or mass in the abdomen.
- To remove a cyst.
- To see how well certain treatments have been working.
- To determine how far cancer has progressed.
- To remove organs, such as the appendix.
- To remove scar tissue.
- To determine why there is fluid in the abdominal cavity.
- To repair a hernia.
- To remove the gall bladder.
This type of surgery can also allow a doctor to treat certain conditions when they are in their early stages.
Potential Complications From Laparoscopic Surgery
The laparoscopic procedure does have a few normal risks associated with it. When a patient experiences complications resulting from the surgery, it does not necessarily mean there was medical malpractice involved with the surgery. This is because each patient’s body is different, and it is impossible to predict ahead of time how each person’s body will respond to surgery. A few complications may include:
- Fever or chills, which may be signs of infection
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Trouble urinating
- Severe abdominal pain
- Persistent cough
With some of these complications, patients may not realize what has happened until they experience more severe health problems. Patients who are experiencing any of these symptoms after surgery should contact their doctors immediately.
Because it is minimally invasive, one of the problems with this type of surgery is that the patient will not remain in the hospital for a long time. This means that the doctors may not be aware of any complications that may result afterward because the patient has already gone home. If these symptoms do occur, the patient’s treatment for these symptoms will be delayed because he or she will not be in a hospital setting.
While these complications can be common after surgery, there are several other types of surgical errors that may occur as a result of medical malpractice on the part of the medical facility and staff.
Complications of Access
Nearly 60 percent of errors in surgery falls under the category of complications of access. Several life-threatening complications fall under this category.
- Bowel Perforation: If the surgeon is not careful enough, he or she can tear the patient’s bowel.
- Hemorrhage: This happens when the surgeon causes a blood vessel to rupture, which will cause excessive bleeding.
- Peritonitis: This is an infection of the lining of the abdominal wall. It happens when bacteria get into the surgical incision.
- Abdominal Wall Hematoma: This happens when the layers of muscles inside the abdominal wall begin to bleed. An error of the surgeon often causes it.
- Cholecystectomy: This type of surgical error occurs during gallbladder removal. It happens when the bile duct, which carries important fluids between the liver and intestines, is severely damaged or even cut. This is a life-threatening injury that requires immediate medical attention.
- Damaging Other Vital Structures: Because the tools used in this type of surgery are so small, doctors may not notice that they are inadvertently damaging other structures around the area.
Complications of Pneumoperitoneum
Pneumoperitoneum occurs when there is too much air or other gas in the peritoneal cavity, which is in the abdominal cavity. This most often occurs when one of the abdominal organs is punctured. This can lead to several complications.
- Hypothermia: This happens when the patient’s body temperature becomes too low.
- Blood Pressure: This complication may cause the patient’s blood pressure to rise too high during surgery.
- Respiratory Acidosis: This occurs when the lungs are unable to remove enough of the carbon dioxide from the patient’s body. This causes fluids in the body, such as the blood, to become too acidic.
- Open Surgery: This complication can also lead to the need for the surgeon to move to open surgery, as the laparoscopic tools are no longer effective.
Complications From Operation
The surgery itself can have several complications if the doctors and other health care staff are negligent.
- Infection: Failure to properly clean the surgical site before and after the surgery and failure to prescribe the right antibiotics can both lead to an infection at the site.
- Burns: If the staff do not monitor the electrodes on the patient’s chest properly, the patient may receive burns from them.
- Hemorrhage: Certain medications may limit a patient’s ability to form blood clots, leading to bleeding well after the surgery has taken place. This bleeding can also come from an organ perforation.
Misdiagnosis of Patient’s Condition
A patient may also have a medical malpractice case if the doctor misdiagnosed the patient. While a misdiagnosis itself is not necessarily considered medical malpractice, performing an unnecessary, invasive surgery is considered malpractice. A misdiagnosis can lead to the patient’s real condition remaining undiagnosed, allowing it to worsen. This can lead to the treatment of the condition to be either delayed or nonexistent.
Some of these complications from surgeries can be a result of negligence on the part of the medical staff. There are several ways that the staff may have been negligent in providing medical care to the patient.
- Failing to monitor the condition of the patient after surgery properly. In the case of hemorrhage, the patient may not show signs of bleeding until several hours after surgery. This is because blood after surgery is normal. If the doctor does not properly monitor the patient after the surgery, he or she may fail to notice that the patient’s bleeding has not started to slow down.
- Failing to react to an injury. Often, an injury such as an organ perforation or hypothermia will not cause serious harm to the patient if the doctor reacts quickly.
- Failing to call a specialist if the surgeon does not have enough experience. Because many older surgeons have not had formal training in laparoscopic surgery, they may not have enough experience to safely carry out this newer type of surgery on a patient.
- Failing to provide antibiotics. The doctor should automatically prescribe the patient with antibiotics to take after the surgery to keep infections away. However, even if the doctor has prescribed some antibiotics, failing to prescribe them for a long enough period or a strong enough dosage can be medical malpractice.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim
Several factors will determine whether an individual will receive compensation for a laparoscopic surgery gone wrong.
For example, many patients may believe that an older doctor may have more experience with this type of surgery because he or she has done more surgeries. However, this is not always the case. Because this is a relatively newer type of surgery, older doctors have not received formal training on the proper way to do it. Instead, they have had to learn it on the job. Younger doctors, on the other hand, received formal training on surgical procedures such as this, as well as on the job training. A medical malpractice attorney will look at how many similar surgeries the doctor has done in the past, what that doctor’s rate of complications is, and how much information the patient received before the operation.
If a patient provided informed consent for the procedure, the doctor and medical staff could still be sued for malpractice if they were negligent. In court, the judge may consider whether or not a competent doctor would tell the patient what the risk was for the surgery. The judge may also consider if a normal patient would have chosen to undergo surgery or not.
Working with a reputable law firm can help patients get the compensation they deserve for their malpractice claims. Often, a patient or a loved one of a patient who believes they are victims of malpractice can get a free consultation at law firms specializing in malpractice cases.