‘Never Events’ Not As Rare As They Sound

A ‘never events’ are medical mistakes that should never happen, according to all medical professionals. These medical mistakes should never occur if the professionals involved take proper care and precautions prior to and during the surgery. Mistakes that are considered ‘never events’ include the following:

  • Foreign bodies left in the patient after surgery, such as sponges and towels
  • Surgery on the wrong patient
  • Surgery on the wrong body part
  • The incorrect surgery performed on a patient

Most hospitals have procedures in place designed to prevent these types of mistakes from occurring. A recent study calls into question how effective these procedures have been.

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, ‘never events’ occur at least 4,000 times a year across the country. Foreign-body-retention cases occur approximately 39 times per week. Surgeons perform the wrong procedure on a patient approximately 20 times per week. Surgeons operate on the wrong part of the body approximately 20 times a week. The research estimated that, in total, 80,000 ‘never events’ happened in U.S. hospitals between 1990 and 2010.

In part, the data used for the study came from the National Practitioner Data Bank which forces hospitals by law to report any mistakes that lead to medical malpractice judgments or out-of-court settlements. This data bank showed nearly 10,000 such situations from 1990 to 2010 leading to settlements and judgments of nearly $1.3 billion. The data bank does not indicate how many ‘never events’ did not lead to a settlement or judgment.

Some medical problems are unavoidable. Not every procedure is a success. ‘Never events’ are completely avoidable. They always represent a failure on the part of the professionals involved in the procedure. As their name indicates, a patient should never have to contend with such an error.

Source: Infection Control Today, “Johns Hopkins Malpractice Study Reveals Surgical ‘Never Events’ Occur at Least 4,000 Times Annually,” 19 December 2012