“Never events” still a problem in U.S. Healthcare

Oct 10, 2014 - Articles - by Dodson & Hooks, APLC

People have a great deal of trust in their doctors when they agree to undergo surgery. Surgery is always risky, and people need to believe that their surgeons are skilled and using a great deal of care when performing operations. Some dangers associated with surgery, such as excess bleeding and adverse reactions to anesthesia, can never be totally eliminated. However, a recent study completed by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that doctors across the U.S are making thousands of mistakes each year that are totally preventable, and putting patients at risk unnecessarily.

Examining never events

Healthcare workers use the term “never events” to describe errors that should never happen during a surgery. Some examples of never events include operating on the wrong side of the body or incorrect body part, leaving objects like scalpels or sponges inside patients and performing the wrong surgical procedure.

Using data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, a repository of medical malpractice judgments and medical malpractice claim settlements the federal government maintains, researchers looked at 9,744 incidents occurring between 1990 and 2010. In the cases they examined, researchers found that just over 6 percent of the patients died from these never events, 32.9 percent suffered permanent injures and 59.2 had temporary injuries. Healthcare providers paid about $1.3 billion for the malpractice claims that resulted from these errors.

Researchers found that patients aged 40-49 were most often the victims of preventable surgery errors, and that surgeons within the same age range most frequently committed such errors. Surgeons aged 40 to 49 years old committed about one-third of the errors, as compared to surgeons aged 60 years and older who committed about 14 percent of such errors.

The researchers estimated that about 80,000 never events occurred between 1990 and 2010, which equals about 4,000 such errors per month. They think that surgeons leave objects in patients 39 times a week, operate on the wrong body part 20 times a week and perform the wrong surgical procedure 20 times a week. The researchers based their estimates on the findings of an earlier study revealing that only 12 percent of those suffering injuries from adverse surgical events ever file claims resulting in healthcare providers paying. The study’s authors believe that their estimates may even be too conservative, and that surgeons make more preventable mistakes per year than they calculated.

Improving healthcare

The study’s authors stressed that documenting the extent of preventable surgery errors is the first step to eliminating them. Some risks people face when undergoing surgery can never be erased. However, the errors the study examined can be prevented. Knowing how often such mistakes occur and under what circumstances can help healthcare providers make the necessary changes in procedures and policies to stop never events.

Speak with an attorney

People go in for surgery to improve their health – and they do not expect that they may get worse because of a preventable mistake their doctors make. If you have been injured as a result of a healthcare provider’s error, talk to a personal injury attorney with broad experience handling these complicated cases. An attorney can help you recover compensation for the expenses associated with recovering from your injuries.

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