Never events in surgery happen quite regularly

Thanks to years of research, surgery today has become safer and more effective at treating ailments than it has been in the history of the world. However, even with the medical advances over the years, today's surgeons are still human and make mistakes. Although many mistakes are minor and result in little or no harm to the patient, surgeons also make major mistakes that can have a devastating effect.

Such errors are referred to as "never events." This means that the surgical error is so flagrant that it should never happen. Errors that fall within the category of never events include operating on the wrong arm, leg or person; performing the wrong type of surgery; and leaving surgical objects behind in the patient once the operation has been completed.

Although most people would think that these errors would not happen very often, unfortunately that is not the case. According to a 2012 study by Johns Hopkins, surgeons leave an object behind an average of 39 times per week. Additionally, the study found that the wrong procedure is performed (or the wrong body part is operated on) an average of 20 times per week. Overall, the study's researchers estimated that never events happen at least 4,044 times per year. However, since not all never events are discovered or reported, it is widely believed that the actual number is much higher.

The study also analyzed medical malpractice judgments and settlements to reveal that aftermath that never events have on patients. It was found that 59.2 percent of patients were left with temporary injuries and 32.9 percent were injured permanently. Unfortunately, such errors also can be fatal; the study found that 6.6 percent of patents were killed as a result of never events.

What is perhaps the most disturbing is that never events are easily prevented. For example, tracking chips can be embedded in surgical tools such as sponges, allowing the surgical team to quickly tell if any object has been left behind. Additionally, wrong-site surgeries can easily be prevented by using a marker to indicate the correct site for the surgery on the patient's body.

Despite the ease of preventing these errors, most hospitals have been reluctant to implement technological solutions or change their internal procedures, many citing cost concerns. Of course, doing nothing to address the problem is also costly for hospitals. According to a study by the Joint Commission, never events cost hospitals at least $166,000 per occurrence, due to lost Medicare payments, surgical fees and legal expenses.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that a hospital will do nothing with regard to patient safety unless doing so would be in its financial best interests. Often, it is only when the hospital has faced a medical malpractice lawsuit that it sees the wisdom of implementing safety procedures. If you or a loved one has been injured by a surgical error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. An attorney can ensure that the responsible parties are held accountable for their negligence.