The decision to have surgery is likely one you have thought about long and hard. You’ve probably thoroughly discussed it with your doctor, done research, and perhaps even got a second or third professional opinion. Most importantly, you probably spent significant time choosing a surgeon you felt was trustworthy and capable.

Unfortunately, for about 4,000 Americans every year, this thorough decision-making process wasn’t enough to keep them out of harm’s way, according to HealthDay. A new study put forth by Johns Hopkins researchers estimates at least 4,000 surgical errors referred to as “never events” happen annually in the United States. Approximately 80,000 events, likely more, have occurred in our healthcare facilities in a mere twenty-year span (1990 and 2010).

What is a “Never Event”?

Essentially, “never events” are completely preventable, extreme surgical mistakes that should never, ever happen. Johns Hopkins researchers analyzed medical malpractice claims filed nationwide to discern the occurrence rate for these events, an undertaking they believe to be the first of its kind. They looked at claims for the following never events, and based on their findings projected how often U.S. surgeons commit the error per week:

  • Leaving foreign objects inside patients, such as sponges: About 39 times.
  • Performing the wrong procedure: About 20 times.
  • Operating on the wrong body part: About 20 times.
  • Operating on the wrong person (average rate per week was not provided).

These are some of the most horrible mistakes we can imagine as patients, and yet this report asserts they occur at a frightening rate. Even scarier, these numbers are probably low because they reflect only data compiled from medical malpractice claims that resulted in a payment to the victim.  Hospitals are required by law to report only settled claims based on never events.

On the other hand, events that are never discovered or never obtain legal judgment are left up to the hospital to voluntarily share with the Joint Commission that evaluates facility safety practices. As you can image, they don’t always comply.

How Can These Errors Be Reduced?

Hospitals have various procedures in place to prevent these types of errors, including surgical checklists and sponge counts. However, these measures are obviously falling short, and patients and their families are suffering tremendously from the inadequacies. The Johns Hopkins study has made us aware of tragic statistics: 6.6 percent of patients died after the error, 32.9 percent sustained a permanent injury, and nearly 60 percent suffered a temporary injury. Hopefully these sobering facts, now revealed to the public eye, will force hospitals and surgeons to reevaluate and enhance their safety standards and personal dedication to the practice.

Furthermore, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the study, Marty Makary, has advocated public reporting of never events in addition to the legally required reports to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a federal entity which houses medical malpractice claims. Ideally, this would serve dual purposes: under public scrutiny, hospitals would feel pressured to improve safety, and consumers would have access to this information when deciding where to have surgery and who should perform it.

While never events imply clear carelessness on the part of the healthcare provider, not all medical malpractice claims are quite so clear cut. We are here for the victims of botched procedures and negligence that continue to occur, to answer questions about your situation and navigate you through the legal intricacies of medical malpractice. To speak with one of Console and Associates P.C.’s dedicated attorneys, contact us at (833) 690-4940 for a free, no-obligation consultation.