Gallbladder surgery medical malpractice could be reduced with use of pre-op x-ray

Donald Saiontz

By Donald Saiontz
Posted April 3, 2007


Serious problems after gallbladder surgery are often caused by a medical error where the bile duct is mistakenly cut.  This is one of the leading causes of medical malpractice lawsuits against general surgeons, yet many doctors do not do a simple x-ray which could reduce the gallbladder surgery risk by as much as 70%.

>>INFORMATION: Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Gallbladder surgery is a relatively common procedure.  Every year about 750,000 people in the United States have their gallbladder removed.  Unfortunately, recent estimates indicate that as many as 1 out of every 200 surgeries result in a bile duct injury.   When the surgeon fails to properly identify the bile duct during laparoscopic gallbladder surgery, it could be cut.  This mistake often leads to serious complications or even death for the patient who thought they were undergoing a surgery with minimal risks.

Studies indicate most surgical errors during gallbladder surgery which lead to a bile duct injury could be prevented if the doctor takes a special x-ray before the surgery to identify the location of the bile duct.  However, only 20% of all patients receive the xray, known as a cholangiogram.


Gallbladder surgery is a much less invasive procedure than it used to be, and most patients are able to go home from the hospital the same day as the surgery with no complications.  In the past, removal of the gallbladder involved a large incision with several days of recuperation in the hospital.  Today, medical instruments and a camera are inserted through small incisions which allow the physician to perform the surgery while watching a television monitor, and allow for a much quicker recovery for the patient.

Unfortunately, the less invasive method of removing the gallbladder has led to a significant increase in the number of duct injuries caused by negligent surgeons failing to identify the bile duct on the TV monitor.  When the bile duct is cut, this leads to serious complications after gallbladder surgery.  At a minimum, the gallbladder surgery malpractice will result in major reconstructive surgery.  At worst, the bile can leak out causing a deadly infection.

A simple cholangiogram x-ray before gallbladder surgery takes approximately 10 minutes and allows the surgeon to identify the duct system to avoid cutting the bile duct.  Although the x-ray only costs around $122, many physicians do not even offer it to patients.  Several well known surgeons and medical societies have publicly stated that more physicians should perform the xray, yet many surgeons and health insurers have claimed it is an unnecessary expense.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, many surgeons are not properly trained in the technique and avoid doing it because they are not comfortable with it, even though it has been shown to save lives.  Researchers who reviewed records for over 16 million medicare patients found that the gallbladder surgery risk could be reduced by up to 70% with use of the cholangiogram.


Most patients disagree with the position of health insurers and physicians who state that the x-ray is an unnecessary expense.  Even if hundreds of cholangiograms must be performed to save one life, at $122 for each test, it would be money well spent.  As a result of the less invasive laparoscopic gallbladder surgery, physicians are unable to visualize the duct system and human error or carelessness can lead to the misidentification of the bile duct on the TV monitor.

The medical costs associated with a bile duct injury often exceeds $50,000, and the impact it can have on the patients quality of life can be devastating.  The medical malpractice lawyers at Saiontz & Kirk, P.A. investigate surgical mistake lawsuits nationwide.   To speak with a lawyer and review the circumstances surrounding a medical mistake, request a free consultation.

10 Comments • Add Your Comments

  • nancy says:

    had gallbladder surgery about 2 weeks ago and was injured during surgery didnt have insurance so they sent me home with a t-tube and jp iam so worried please offer some advice

    Posted on July 10, 2009 at 5:35 pm

  • LISA F says:

    had mine out in 04 since then i’ve had 2 surgerys abscess on my liver and lots of drains. had my last surgery last sept and still have an IR drain in me that may never come out because of the gallbladder removal. i went through a year of not being able to eat anything lost lots of weight. im 47 and on disability because of it and on an enzyme the rest of my life to make my food digest.

    Posted on July 30, 2009 at 9:05 am

  • Michele B says:

    Due to the fact that health care in America sucks at the age of 21 im in debt $39,000.Since I was 18 I have had no health insurance.At 21 i had gall stones.A week prior to being diagnosed with gall stones i was quickly dismissed with the easy diagnosis of Gastritis.Its simple and easy to give a patient with no insurance a perscirtion and send them on their way.On may 20th,2009 i went into the hospital with extreme abdimal pain.Since this time I was keeling over in pain,I guess they took me more serious.8 hours later I was rushed into emergency surgery without the option of being able to at least TRY to get on health insurace.$$$$$$$$$$$$!The doctor who performed surgey on me was the head surgeon.The nurses told me it was ‘my lucky day’ becuse I had such a great surgeon.A 45 minute procedure turned into a 7 hour lay over.My lucky day turned into 10 days at the hospital.Shit,and i was mad befor reading this article! My advice,if you need surgery stay out of Rochester New York.

    Posted on January 30, 2010 at 3:48 am

  • Karen says:

    I had gallbladder surgery thirty years ago. I have a very large scar; the old surgery was used. Is there any connections between gastroparesis and complications from gallbladder surgery? I remember extremely well when my drain was removed. My surgeon yanked it out very quickly. I thought I would pass out. Could there be any connection to the gastroparesis. I now suffer from constant nausea and I am incontinent at the age of 57. I am not a diabetic and there is no reason given as to why I have this.

    Posted on November 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm

  • Chuck In Pa says:

    I had just started a new job on Monday as a sales person and woke up Tuesday’s mourning with sever pain in my side and stomach. I was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday and had my operation on Thursday and was sent home on Saturday with still sever pain. My wife took ,e to the ER and I had a bile leak.I got an infection because of it and was in the hospital for 8 weeks and almost died from it and lost everything I worked so hard for including my job and savings

    Posted on June 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm

  • Reenea says:

    Pain. Gas ..burning of my esophagus with pain and before I didn’t have this problem.

    Posted on January 23, 2015 at 12:39 pm

  • Karla says:

    I don’t really have comment I have a questions my sister in law had gallstones they did surgery to take them out he left one still inside saying that when she would to the bathroom it was going to come out on the pee it was coming out hit the pancreas started to leak liquid shes been novel now the doctor told her to leave she left came back severed pain this doctor help her had infection this happen maybe between may till today she went back to the hospitals

    Posted on December 16, 2015 at 8:56 am

  • serrina says:

    I had gall bladder surgey 9/10/2016 and on 9/13/2016 I was admitted four days in the hospital for bile duct leak. I never experience pain like that in my life before it had me not eating or drinking anything. I stayed in the emergency room for about six hours before admitted on a floor. I really feel that it was and error on the physician part

    Posted on January 30, 2017 at 4:09 pm

  • Roxsanne says:

    I had surgery for a gallbladder removed on 03/23/2918 in gallstones removed I was sent home the same day in was given pain medicine in was cut in the center of my stomach in the side of my stomach in threw my neighbor chord in now I have back I in stomach pain in I have less of a appetite in I haven’t had a bowel movement in 4 day in I am scheduled to go back to the doctor on 04/05/2018

    Posted on April 1, 2018 at 11:04 pm

  • Kevin says:

    Had gallbladder suragry on may 21st2019 sergeon says my surgery would be an hour an hour and a half tops! Well little did I know I was operated on for almost 7 hours I wake up with a JP drain and t-tube bile bag I was hospitalized for 10 days after surgery went home 2 days later I got a pretty high fever told my sergeon he says to take Advil so I did fever went away 3 weeks later I went to ER was told that I had a severe infection caused from the bile leaking into my body and could have died! I was in the hospital again for another 7 days I was released from hospital and sent home with antibiotics however the antibiotics weren’t agreeing with me and I would vomit them even after taking with food so sergeon tells me to stop taking them a week and a half after being released from the infection hospitalization I got severe chest and back pain with constant vomiting come back to Er and am now told I have cholongitits and that there is an obstruction in my bile duct which means there’s another stone and to top this all off my sergeon tells my wife that he admits there were 5 stones but only removed 4 for his poor judgment and failing to keep me safe I am now in so much pain and suffering before surgery I weighed 215lbs today June 29th I am now 170lbs writing this while still in the hospital waiting for yet another procedure I am at risk of losing everything I own

    Posted on June 29, 2019 at 4:52 pm

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