Did a ‘never event’ lead to medical malpractice?

While patients being admitted to a Florida hospital may have concerns over their conditions, chances are they aren’t thinking of an egregious surgical mistake that could kill or maim them.

Yet one study of claims of medical malpractice in the United States yielded Johns Hopkins’ researchers the startling estimation that, on a weekly basis, surgeons:

  • Leave foreign objects inside of patients 39 times
  • Operate on the wrong site of their patients’ bodies 20 times
  • On 20 occasions, perform the wrong medical procedure on their patients

The aforementioned “never events” are frightening to contemplate, and represent 80,000 occurrences in the decades between 1990 and 2010. Researchers consider these figures to be conservative estimates.

In the medical field, “never events” are the types of medical mistakes that those in the profession agree should never occur. By documenting the instances of these events, health care professionals can become more aware about prevention.

The study focused on medical malpractice claims reported by the National Practitioner Data Bank. During the two-decade study, 9,744 medical malpractice claims and judgments related to wrong medical procedures that were performed, surgeries performed on incorrect sites or the wrong patients and surgeries that left a foreign body in a patient were noted. Payments for these costly medical errors totaled over $1.3 billion, with temporary injuries occurring in almost 60 percent, permanent injuries in 32.9 percent and death resulting in more than 6 percent of patients.

Preventative measures include counting towels, sponges and surgical items both before and after surgery and marking patient surgery sites with indelible ink prior to administering anesthesia. Some hospitals have begun using bar codes on surgical instruments to make more accurate counts and reduce human errors.

If you suspect that a medical “never event” occurred during your surgery, the first step is identifying and correcting the problem to preserve your health. Seeking legal redress for your damages remains an option as well.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Johns Hopkins Malpractice Study: Surgical ‘Never Events’ Occur At Least 4,000 Times per Year” accessed Mar. 11, 2015