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Do medical mistakes and surgical errors happen often? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, but put into perspective, the risk to individual patients is typically low. A 2012 report about medical mistakes reported that over 4,000 preventable mistakes happen during surgery each year, which results in a cost of over $1.3 billion in medical malpractice payouts.

What exactly is a preventable error? Things like leaving a sponge in the body even though an equipment count took place or operating on the wrong body part due to a lack of communication are both preventable errors. These events are known as never events, because they should never happen in a properly performed surgery.

Between 1990 and 2010, statistics showed that surgeons leave a sponge, towel or other foreign item in a patient up to 39 times per week. The wrong procedure being performed on the wrong patient took place around 20 times per week. Wrong-site surgeries also took place around 20 times per week.

While statistically speaking, these events are relatively unlikely to happen to patients, for the thousands who do suffer injuries, the pain and suffering is all too much of a reality. In one study published in Surgery magazine including data between 1990 and 2010, it was shown that 9,744 never events took place during that time, but that’s just based on malpractice settlements and judgments that were successful. The true number could be much higher, especially due to the fact that some events never get reported. The items left in the body may not be discovered if they don’t cause a problem, and patients may be left without information on why they’re in pain or recovering poorly.