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How Do Surgical Infections Occur?

After undergoing a surgical procedure or operation, the last thing a patient needs is to suffer an infection. Post-operative site infections can be serious and even life-threatening, especially if they lead to sepsis – an extreme and potentially fatal reaction by the body to an infection. Surgical infections can be linked to hospital negligence, such as unsanitary tools, or even medical malpractice, including poor post-operative patient care.

What Are Surgical Infections?

A surgical site infection (SSI) is an infection that occurs after a surgical procedure in the part of the body where the surgery took place. Mistakes or problems made during the procedure itself can cause an SSI, or it can develop in the days following the surgery for various reasons (including potentially  a lack of proper patient care). SSIs are a substantial cause of patient morbidity and prolonged hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that around 1 to 3 percent of surgeries result in infections.

Three different types of surgical site infections include:

  1. Superficial incisional infection: an infection that occurs only in the area of the body or the site where the surgical incision was made.
  2. Deep incision infection: an infection that occurs not only at the incision site but beneath the incision area as well, in the surrounding muscles and inner tissues.
  3. Organ or space infection: an infection that has spread to any area of the body other than the surgical site or surrounding tissue and muscles, such as an organ or the space between organs.

The signs of a surgical infection can include pus from the wound site, red streaks, swelling, pain, tenderness, warmth, fever and prolonged healing. While most surgical infections can be treated, some patients suffer lasting complications. In some cases, a patient can have an extreme reaction to an SSI, resulting in problems such as the development of an abscess, sepsis or premature death.

What Causes Surgical Infections?

Surgical infections are a risk of most surgical procedures, and can occur absent any negligence by a health care provider or facility, but some infections do result from either negligent hospital practices or post-operative care.  Although some patients are naturally at an increased risk of surgical infection– such as immunocompromised patients or patients with diabetes – it is sometimes possible to prevent SSIs with proper medical procedures and care.

A hospital and its staff members should take proactive steps to prevent the risk factors associated with the development of SSIs, such as:

  • Improper operating room ventilation
  • Poor surgical equipment sterilization
  • A lack of aseptic barriers
  • Inadequate hand-washing procedures
  • Low-quality or dangerous surgical techniques

Failing to prioritize infection control in a health care setting increases the odds of surgical site infections. If a hospital or health care provider could have done more to prevent a patient’s postoperative infection, the victim should consider hiring an attorney to investigate a Philadelphia medical malpractice claim against the hospital or surgical center to pursue financial compensation for harm caused.

Who Is Liable for My Surgical Site Infection?

A hospital or doctor in Pennsylvania can be held liable for an SSI if it can be proven that negligence caused the infection – or resulted in a delay in diagnosing the infection. A medical malpractice lawsuit aims to prove that the health care provider owed the patient a professional duty of care, breached or fell short of this duty, and that this was a cause of the patient’s infection. A malpractice claim for an SSI requires evidence of four elements:

  1. A patient-doctor relationship existed at the time of the alleged act of malpractice.
  2. The defendant failed to do something that a prudent health care provider would have in the same or similar circumstances.
  3. The defendant’s act or omission was a cause of the patient’s surgical infection or a cause of the failure to timely diagnose the infection.
  4. The patient suffered compensable damages as a result.

Hospitals in Pennsylvania also have a duty to patients (a) to use reasonable care in the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment; and (b) to formulate, adopt, and enforce adequate rules and policies to ensure quality of care for its patients. The seminal case of Thompson v. Nason, 591 A.2d 703 (Pa. 1991) established these duties of care. If a post-operative infection or delay in diagnosis of the infection results from a hospital’s violation of either (or both) of these duties, then the hospital can be held liable for the damages caused by the infection or delayed diagnosis.

A surgical infection can cause immense pain, suffering and emotional distress, as well as a longer hospital stay and additional medical bills. In the most severe cases, an SSI could affect your recovery and long-term health, or result in a patient’s wrongful death.  If you believe that your surgeon, nurse, doctor, physician assistant, hospital or another health care provider was negligent and caused you to suffer a surgical site infection, you may be able to be compensated for your harm. Contact a medical malpractice lawyer at Youman & Caputo to learn more.