The post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) is one of the most important rooms in a hospital. After being under anesthesia, patients are vulnerable and require careful monitoring of life-sustaining systems, such as respiratory function. At the same time, staff members must manage high patient volume and fast turnover.
The combination of the need for high levels of care and the fast-paced environment in the PACU make it a hotbed for errors. Wrong-patient mistakes, communication errors, and inadequate care may all occur while a patient awakens from anesthesia. If you believe medical malpractice is at the heart of your PACU injury or a loved one’s death, speak to a medical malpractice lawyer in Philadelphia about filing a claim in Philadelphia.
Health and Safety Risks in the PACU
Many people believe that once a patient exits the operating room, the risks are over. However, what takes place post-operation is just as important to the prognosis of the patient as what occurs on the operating table. Postoperative care, particularly the patient’s time in the PACU, can decide whether or not the patient will make a full recovery – or leave the hospital at all. It is up to PACU managers and personnel to establish a culture of safety, care, coordination, and communication.
In the PACU, the risk of anesthesia errors is much higher than during surgery. Complications during PACU care include improper upper airway support, nausea and vomiting, hypertension and hypotension, and tachycardia, or heart palpitations. There are specific safety issues that require constant attention in the PACU, including medication safety, care coordination, infection control, equipment use, provider behavior, and involvement of the patient’s family. It is up to PACU staff to watch for common risks and take active measures to prevent them.
What Causes PACU Errors?
When staff members fail to adequately care for patients during postoperative events, patient injuries and death can occur. The most common cause of PACU errors is improper management of the patient. Improper management encompasses many mistakes, from mixing up patients to neglecting the accepted level of care. Providers may:
- Fail to note important clinical information
- Fail to communicate regarding the patient’s condition
- Neglect to follow policies
- Document inconsistently
- Neglect to perform a clinical assessment
- Administer anesthesia improperly
- Fail to pay attention to the patient’s physiologic care
There are many things that can go wrong in the PACU while patients recover from anesthesia. Most patients are unconscious or semi-conscious, posing risks of physiological problems. In most PACU medical malpractice cases, the defendants are either nurses or anesthesiology professionals. It is up to these parties to follow an action plan that ensures the safety of patients in post-anesthesia care.
Preventing PACU Errors
PACU errors are not assumed risks of surgeries. With proper care and management, PACU errors are preventable. An action plan outlining patient safety procedures, patient pain management, postoperative delirium screening, and standards the staff must obey, can significantly reduce the odds of PACU errors. It is a hospital’s job to foster a culture of utmost safety for patients. At all times, staff must ask themselves how to prevent foreseeable harms, and what to do if something goes wrong. Emergency preparedness goes a long way toward patient safety.
A hospital must also focus on the condition and functionality of its equipment. Equipment failures and malfunctions during PACU care can be detrimental to patient health and safety. A hospital must ensure ample space, equipment, and supplies at all times. Postoperative care is a high priority, and it should have its own designated space. It’s up to physicians and facilities to reduce risks. To speak with a lawyer about PACU errors and your injuries, call (866) 735-2792 or contact us online.