Never say ‘never event’: 4,000 major medical errors occur annually

Before going under the knife, a nurse or doctor will often come in to speak with the patient, asking the patient their name, date of birth and what they are at the hospital to have done. The patient may think that seems silly and feel confused why they need to continually tell staff their name. When the patient says, “I am having surgery on my left shoulder,” the medical professional will then often mark the patient’s left should in indelible ink with initials or some other marker.

This might seem silly, but it is all for extremely good measure. Precautions like these are in place because too often serious medical errors occur from oversight in reading a chart and making sometimes grave mistakes in the operating room. Once the patient is under anesthesia, some hospitals mandate a “time out” where everyone reviews what operation is to be performed and on what site. Once all staff is in agreement, the procedure will begin.

Previously, we have detailed instances of medical malpractice cases in which “never events” occur. These events are classified as happenings which all doctors agree should not happen during surgery. Happenings such as leaving being a foreign object or operating on the wrong side are considered never events.

Unfortunately, these huge errors do occur, and more frequently than their name would suggest, as well. Patient safety researchers from Johns Hopkins analyzed malpractice claims over roughly the last 20 years. Their findings are alarming, suggesting that an average of 4,000 never events occur every year. In that span, it is estimated that victims and the families of victims killed due to medical malpractice never events received a total of $1.3 billion in compensation for the happenings.

While never events continue to occur, many, like the patient safety researchers, are hoping to bring more visibility to this issue and hopefully decrease happenings by reforming procedures. Obviously, the best scenario is for these events to really never happen, but when an event like this occurs, patients may be able to pursue compensation as some sort of remedy for the terrible ordeal.

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

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