Surgical “Never Events” Really do Happen

healthcareMany people that think they have suffered from medical malpractice fail to pursue and file a legal claim because of the challenges that lie ahead (e.g., legal fees, risk of the claim not succeeding, etc.). To be successful, a medical malpractice claim generally needs to prove that (i) the treating medical professional fell below the accepted standard of care, and (ii) the alleged substandard care caused the injury. However, these hurdles are much easier to overcome when a patient experiences a surgical “never event” (a term used in the medical community to describe a preventable surgical event that is “never” supposed to occur). A “never event” includes events that you see on television and movies:

  • leaving foreign objects (sponges, towels, scalpels, etc.) inside patients
  • performing surgery on the wrong patient
  • performing the wrong surgery

According to a recent Johns Hopkins University study, these “never events” are not only on television and movies; they occur at a surprising rate in real life. The event of leaving a foreign object inside a patient’s body after surgery occurs approximately 39 times per week; the events of performing the wrong procedure and  performing on the wrong body site each occur 20 times per week.

This study is believed to be the first to quantify national rate “never events”.  The study was based on 20 years of historical data (1990 – 2010) maintained at the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a federal repository of medical malpractice claims.  The study identified 9,744 paid malpractice judgments and claims totaling $1.3 billion in payments.  Deaths occurred in 6.6% of patients, permanent injury in 32.9%, and temporary injury in 59.2%.  Approximately 80,000 surgical near events are estimated to have occurred in American hospitals during the 20 year period; approximately 4,000 are estimated to occur each year.

Because this study’s results are based on medical malpractice claims, many of its statistical estimates may be low.  Even though a patient that experienced a surgical “never event” may be more likely to file a medical malpractice claim than a patient that suffered from something less than a “never event” (because the claim is more likely to be successful), the “never event” patient may still not file a claim for a variety of reasons.

Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.