Girardi | Keese

Surgical "Never Events" Occur Frequently

Medical malpractice lawsuits are often difficult to prove, but there are some cases where pointing out negligence is as easy as showing there was an object left inside a patient's body or a surgeon performed the wrong surgery.

In the medical profession, these forms of medical malpractice are called "never events" because they should never occur. Yet, they occur frequently.

In fact, a recent study by John Hopkins University School of Medicine found that never events happen more than 4,000 times each year. That deserves repeating: More than 4,000 times in every year, a surgery team does one of the following:

  • Operates on the wrong patient
  • Leaves a surgical object in a patient's body, such as a surgical sponge
  • Performs the wrong procedure
  • Performs a surgical procedure on the wrong site ("wrong-site surgery")

As with any medical malpractice study, the number of errors is probably much higher than 4,000, since researchers can only study reported events. Many patients will never file a claim or understand what caused their injury. This is especially true in cases involving surgical objects left inside a patient. According to one author of the study, Martin Makary, one in four sponges left inside a patient "may never be discovered."

Hospitals have procedures to count and re-count surgical objects, they have electronic charts and surgical "time-outs" to ensure that the patient is the right patient and the surgery is the right surgery. Yet, it is obvious this is not enough.

Whether a surgeon is simply too tired or a nurse fails to double-check the charts, they must be held accountable for their errors. Through a medical malpractice lawsuit, a victim can recover compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages. Perhaps more importantly, a medical malpractice lawsuit makes a strong statement that we will not accept negligent medical care.

Source: Fox News, "Thousands of surgical errors happening with 'alarming frequency,'" The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 21, 2012

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