Background: Severe complications after neuraxial anaesthesia are rare but potentially devastating.
Objective: We aimed to identify characteristics and preventable causes of haematoma, abscess or meningitis after neuraxial anaesthesia.
Design: Observational study, closed claims analysis.
Setting: Closed anaesthesia malpractice claims from the USA and the Netherlands were examined from 2007 until 2017.
Patients: Claims of patients with haematoma (n = 41), abscess (n = 18) or meningitis (n = 14) associated with neuraxial anaesthesia for labour, acute and chronic pain that initiated and closed between 2007 and 2017 were included. There were no exclusions.
Main outcome measures: We analysed potential preventable causes in patient-related, neuraxial procedure-related, treatment-related and legal characteristics of these complications.
Results: Patients experiencing spinal haematoma were predominantly above 60 years of age and using antihaemostatic medication, whereas patients with abscess or meningitis were middle-aged, relatively healthy and more often involved in emergency interventions. Potential preventable causes of unfavourable sequelae constituted errors in timing/prescription of antihaemostatic medication (10 claims, 14%), unsterile procedures (n = 10, 14%) and delay in diagnosis/treatment of the complication (n = 18, 25%). The number of claims resulting in payment was similar between countries (USA n = 15, 38% vs. the Netherlands n = 17, 52%; P = 0.25). The median indemnity payment, which the patient received varied widely between the USA (&OV0556;285 488, n = 14) and the Netherlands (&OV0556;31 031, n = 17) (P = 0.004). However, the considerable differences in legal systems and administration of expenses between countries may make meaningful comparison of indemnity payments inappropriate.
Conclusions: Claims of spinal haematoma were often related to errors in antihaemostatic medication and delay in diagnosis and/or treatment. Spinal abscess claims were related to emergency interventions and lack of sterility. We wish to highlight these potential preventable causes, both when performing the neuraxial procedure and during postprocedural care of patients.