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Study finds surgical "never events" happen an average of 80 times a week

Some medical mistakes are called “never events” because they cause so much unnecessary harm to patients and they are so preventable that they should never happen. Yet these dangerous medical errors continue to occur disturbingly often – even after protocols were implemented to check against them. Patients who have been harmed by medical malpractice such as a surgical error should contact a lawyer to discuss how they may seek compensation to help them pay for medical bills and other expenses resulting from the error.

Surgical never events

Surgical never events are serious and avoidable medical mistakes that include wrong-patient, wrong-site and wrong-procedure surgeries. In addition to instances where a doctor operates on the wrong leg, for example, never events also include cases where surgical equipment is mistakenly left in a patient and not discovered until after the surgery is complete.

A study recently published in the journal Surgery examined a federal record of medical liability settlements and judgments for surgical errors and found surprising results. Between 1990 and 2010, nearly 10,000 claims were made for surgical errors, which is an average of about 4,000 surgical errors per year or approximately 80 never events each week.

The study said that, in most cases, the harm caused to the patient was temporary, although a third of the cases involved permanent injuries. In addition, about half of the surgical errors involved surgery on the wrong patient altogether, in the wrong location on the patient or with the wrong surgical procedure. The other half were claims for never events where surgical equipment was left behind in a patient, such as sponges that are used to soak up blood and other fluids during surgery but that are difficult to see in X-rays taken before the wounds are closed.

Further, the study found that these errors were not more likely to occur with new doctors emerging from residency or among older doctors nearing retirement. Instead, most of the mistakes – 36 percent – were committed by doctors age 40 to 49 years old. Thirty percent occurred among doctors between age 50 and 59, and less than 15 percent were committed by doctors age 60 and older.

Mistakes in the operating room

In 2004, the Universal Protocol was developed to build in mandatory safety checks against never events like wrong-site surgery and was implemented among members of a large medical accreditation organization called the Joint Commission. The Universal Protocol still does not prevent all surgical errors, though, with so many opportunities for mistake in the operating room and so many never events still happening. If you or a loved one has suffered harm from a surgical error, contact a medical malpractice attorney to learn about your legal options.

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