One is too many: Study finds surgical "never events" are still happening

Despite the increased attention focused on procedures and checklists designed to prevent the occurrence of surgical "never events," these dangerous instances of preventable wrong-site, wrong-patient and wrong-procedure surgery as well as surgical instruments being left inside patients continue to happen at an alarming rate. Patients who have suffered harm from these serious surgical errors may be able to obtain compensation for their medical expenses and other related losses in a medical malpractice lawsuit and should seek more information.

Study analyzed claims for surgical error

A study published in the December 2012 issue of the medical journal Surgery analyzed data on medical liability settlements and judgments over a 20-year span. The researchers identified almost 10,000 surgical-error cases from 1990 to 2010, which comes to an average of just over 4,000 never events per year and nearly 80 never events a week.

Fortunately, in the majority of cases studied, the patient suffered temporary harm. However, surgical errors resulted in permanent injury in a third of the cases, according to the study. About half of the cases involved the wrong surgery - whether on the wrong patient, in the wrong location or with the wrong procedure - while the other half involved "retained surgical items" such as sponges, needles and other equipment mistakenly left inside a patient after the procedure.

The study also found that no particular age group of doctors was more likely to commit these errors, contrary to some belief that new doctors and older doctors are more prone to make a mistake. Almost 30 percent of the never events occurred among doctors age 50 to 59 years old, and 36 percent of the events occurred with doctors between 40 and 49 years old, while only 15 percent of the errors were committed by doctors at least 60 years old. This may be because of the relatively fewer number of doctors over age 60 who continue to work, however.

The Joint Commission is an accrediting organization that certifies thousands of hospitals and surgery facilities. According to the American Medical Association, in 2004 the Joint Commission implemented a three-step procedure called the Universal Protocol, which was developed to help prevent the occurrence of surgical errors. Despite these precautions, however, doctors with the Joint Commission say there are still too many opportunities for error and mistake. During mandatory time-outs to identify the patient, site and procedure, for example, everyone in the operating room may not be paying attention fully, or a mark made to identify a surgical site may be unintentionally removed when the area is prepared and cleaned for surgery, according to the AMA.

Surgical never events are preventable and serious medical errors. If you or a loved one has been harmed by a surgical error, contact a personal injury attorney with experience in medical malpractice cases to discuss your legal recovery options.