Surprising Prevalence of Surgical "Never Events"

Each year 4,000 preventable adverse surgical events happen that result in a malpractice claim. The most common problem is the surgeon leaving a foreign object in the patient, which happens twice as often as the next most common error.

Each year 4,000 preventable adverse surgical events happen that result in a malpractice claim, according to a new study on the prevalence of medical malpractice.

The report, published in the journal Surgery, by Johns Hopkins researchers, estimated that U.S. surgeons leave sponges or towels inside a patient roughly 39 times a week, perform the wrong procedure 20 times or operate on the wrong body site 20 times a week.

The researchers say 80,000 “never events” — occurrences that should never happen and are completely preventable during surgery — happened between 1990 and 2010 in American hospitals.

"There are mistakes in health care that are not preventable," study leader Marty Makary, MD, MPH, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Infection rates will likely never get down to zero even if everyone does everything right, for example. But the events we’ve estimated are totally preventable. This study highlights that we are nowhere near where we should be and there’s a lot of work to be done."

Using the National Practitioner Data Bank to identify malpractice judgments and out-of-court settlements related to retained-foreign-body, the researchers determined

there were 9,744 paid malpractice judgments and claims during the 20-year period with payments totaling $1.3 billion. For 59.2% of patients, the mistakes caused temporary injury, while 32.9% suffered permanent injury and 6.6% of patients died.

According to Christopher Mellino, a Cleveland medical malpractice lawyer, this report reveals that medical malpractice is far more prevalent than thought, despite efforts by the medical community to get a handle on medical malpractice.

“If doctors learned from their mistakes, and some of them do not, these numbers could drop,” Mellino said in a statement. “However, the report showed that 12.4% of the same doctors had more than one never event. This is why medical malpractice lawyers are needed to help victims of medical malpractice.”

Read more:

Surgical ‘Never Events’ Occur at Least 4,000 Times per Year — Johns Hopkins

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