Jul 25

Surgical “Never Events” Occur at Least 4,000 Times per Year

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Mistakes Leading to Medical Malpractice Claims Source of Study

A study conducted at Johns Hopkins University estimates that a surgeon in the United States leaves a foreign object such as a sponge or fowl inside a patient’s body after an operation 39 times a week, performs the wrong procedure on a patient 20 times a week, and operates on the wrong body site 20 times a week.

The study, conducted based upon national malpractice claims, estimate that 80,000 of these so-called “never events” occurred in American hospitals between 1990 and 2010, and believe their estimates are likely on the low side.  The findings quantify the national rate of “never events,” occurrences for which there is universal professional agreement that they should never happen during surgery.  Documenting the magnitude of the problem, the researchers say, is an important step in developing better systems to ensure never events live up to their name.

The researchers used the National Practitioner Data Bank, a federal repository of medical malpractice claims, to identify malpractice judgments and out-of-court settlements related to retained-foreign-body (leaving a sponge or other object inside a patient), wrong-site, wrong-procedure and wrong-patient surgeries. They identified 9,744 paid malpractice judgments and claims over those 20 years, with payments totaling $1.3 billion. Death occurred in 6.6 percent of patients, permanent injury in 32.9 percent and temporary injury in 59.2 percent.

The researchers said that the NPDB is the best source of information about malpractice claims for never events because these are not the sort of claims for which frivolous lawsuits are filed or settlements made to avoid jury trials. Never events are considered legitimate claims by the researchers because, for example, a claim of a sponge left behind can be proven by taking an x-ray.

The study advocates public reporting of never events, an action that would give consumers the information to make more informed choices about where to undergo surgery, as well as “put hospitals under the gun to make things safer.”  Currently, the study notes, hospitals are supposed to voluntarily share never event information with the Joint Commission that assesses hospital safety and practice standards, but that doesn’t always happen.

If you believe that you have been the victim of medical negligence, contact the McGrady Law Firm for a free consultation.

Source: “Johns Hopkins Malpractice Study: Surgical ‘Never Events’ Occur at Least 4,000 Times per year,” www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases.

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