According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1-3 percent of surgeries result in an infection. Here are some frequently asked questions about surgical site infections and the law.
1. What is a surgical site infection?
A surgical site infection is just what it sounds like. It is an infection that occurs in the place on the body where surgery took place. The skin normally protects from infection but when it is cut, the area is exposed to foreign materials that can cause infection.
There are different types of SSIs. Some are merely superficial and can be treated easily with antibiotics. Others are very serious and can lead to major complications, more surgery, or can even be deadly.
2. Are there risk factors?
You can help prevent an SSI before surgery by being vigilant. If a part of your body needs to be shaved before surgery, ask why, consider talking to your surgeon, and inquire about antibiotics as well.
Smokers should seriously consider quitting before surgery. Patients who smoke are more prone to infection than non-smokers.
Other risk factors include having diabetes or cancer or medical problems that weaken the immune system, being elderly or overweight, and surgeries that last longer than two hours or abdominal surgery.
After surgery, make sure that family, friends, visitors, and health care workers clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based disinfectant before entering your room.
3. What are the signs and symptoms of SSIs?
Signs you have an SSI include redness and pain around the area where you had surgery, drainage of cloudy fluid from your surgical wound, and fever.
4. How are SSIs treated?
Most SSIs can be treated with antibiotics. Sometimes a new surgery is required to address the infection. In extreme cases, an SSI can be deadly.
5. What are my legal options if I have an SSI?
If you are infected after surgery, it may be the result of medical malpractice, more generally known as negligence. Many infections are preventable and hospitals do have extensive procedures for keeping clean. Failure to follow all of the procedures, speeding through surgery, improperly closing the wound, and wound care management are all possible reasons for infection. Inadequate training of personnel or insufficiently rigorous protocols may also be the reason for an infection.
6. Is an SSI always the result of negligence?
Doctors, hospitals, and health care workers can be held liable for infections that are a result of negligence. But not all SSIs are actually the result of a failure on the part of medical personnel or due to insufficient institutional protocols.
Infection can happen to anyone, especially when one of the above-noted risk factors is involved. Infection that is the result of negligence is actionable but very specific elements must be shown to prove fault in medical malpractice cases.
7. What should I do if I have an SSI and I want to sue?
If you or a loved one underwent surgery and end up with a serious surgical site infection that results in complications, speak to a lawyer. A medical malpractice attorney will review the facts and your medical records to determine whether you have a lawsuit and what kinds of damages you might recover.