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Rate of ‘never events’ in U.S. hospitals may shock you

When hospital patients in Ohio go in for surgery, they trust that the surgical staff will do everything in their power to keep them safe and sound. Unfortunately, a recent study by Johns Hopkins reveals that surgical errors are much more common than we would like to think.

After intensely surveying national medical malpractice claims, researchers found that surgeons in the United States leave a foreign object — like a sponge or towel — in a patient’s body after surgery about 39 times per week on average.

Additionally, the wrong procedure is performed on a patient about 20 times per week, and the wrong body part is also operated on about 20 times per week. If these numbers are correct, all of these so-called “never events” will occur at least once to unsuspecting patients by the end of the day.

The study was aimed at quantifying the rate of “never events” in hospitals throughout the United States. The surgical mistakes are referred to as “never events” because there is universal agreement within the medical profession that they are preventable and thus should never happen.

However, the Johns Hopkins study, which was recently published in the online medical journal Surgery, reveals that at least 80,000 “never events” occurred in United States hospitals between 1990 and 2010. The leader of the study said the results show that the “there’s a lot of work to be done” in reducing these “entirely preventable” surgical mistakes.

One of the important steps in reducing “never events” is requiring hospitals to report them, the study’s leader said. This would “put hospitals under the gun to make things safer” as well as give patients the information they need to choose where to have procedures done, he said.

For the people who have already been harmed by surgical errors, a medical malpractice claim is one way they might gain retribution. Much like the reporting of errors, medical malpractice lawsuits also encourage hospitals to place a higher emphasis on patient safety.

Source: Infection Control Today, “Johns Hopkins Malpractice Study Reveals Surgical ‘Never Events’ Occur at Least 4,000 Times Annually,” Dec. 19, 2012