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AHA study explores risks of surgical errors during angioplasty

Angioplasty is becoming an increasingly common medical procedure in Maryland and across the country. Each year, more than 1 million Americans undergo this procedure. However, this is not a procedure that is free from the risk of medical malpractice.

Angioplasty is a procedure that requires doctors to use a balloon-like tool to unclog heart arteries and blood vessels. The medical professionals can also use a mesh-like device to open blocked arteries and vessels.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended that only hospitals large enough to house a heart surgery unit perform angioplasty. This is a preventative measure in case the patient needs to have emergency heart surgery or if there is a surgical error during the angioplasty.

Many patients, especially those in rural areas, may have to travel a long distance to reach a hospital that would accommodate the AHA recommendations for angioplasty competence. This can be difficult on a patient who is already in a very tough physical and emotional situation.

A recent study compared hospitals that were not large enough to house heart surgery centers with hospitals that had those features. In both cases, the mortality rate six weeks after surgery was the same for patients in both large and small hospitals.

All of the hospitals in the study spent a great deal of time and money building their surgical heart programs. Even in cases of the best preparation, similar kinds of problems arose at both small and large hospitals during angioplasty and other related medical procedures.

Regardless of hospital size, problems during the procedure could be caused by a patient's reaction to anesthesia, the procedure itself, a doctor's error, failure of the hospital to provide a proper operating room, errors by nurses or other staff or even due to defective tools and devices.

Physician error is also referred to as medical malpractice in the legal world. Medical malpractice can occur when doctors negligently make a choice to perform the wrong procedure, fail to act when they should or when the hospital fails to give a patient the proper care.

The hospital and medical staff can also be liable to the patient and the patient's family for an error that results in serious injury or death. It's important to have the right support in a medical malpractice scenario as the hospital and the insurance companies may not feel it's necessary to properly compensate the victim.

Source: USA Today, "Angioplasty patients fare well at smaller hospitals," Liz Szabo, Nov. 14, 2011

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