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Preventable surgical errors occur over 4,000 times per year

Readers in Houston, Texas, who have undergone surgery or are thinking about it should take note of a recent study performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The study estimates that 39 times a week, a surgeon leaves a foreign object such as surgical equipment left inside a patient after an operation. It also estimates that 20 times a week a surgeon performs the wrong procedure on a patient and operates on the wrong part of the body 20 times a week, as well.

These types of surgical errors are referred to as "never events" because there is universal professional agreement that they should never happen during surgery, and are considered totally preventable. The researchers believe that between 1990 and 2010, these "never events" occurred in U.S. hospitals approximately 80,000 times. They also believe that their estimates are low because not all of these errors are discovered.

After using a federal data bank called the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is a repository of medical malpractice claims, the researchers were able to discover that there were almost 10,000 paid malpractice judgments and claims during the 20 years studied. The compensation payments for those claims totaled over $1 billion. As for the damages the errors caused, about 6 percent of the patients died, while around 33 percent suffered from permanent injury and roughly 60 percent were temporarily injured.

The study concludes that both better procedures and better reporting systems are needed in order to prevent never events. It suggests public reporting of these events that could give consumers access to better information and allow them to make more informed decisions about where to undergo surgery. The study states that in doing this, hospitals would be under more pressure to make things safer.

While the suggestions made by the researchers may have a positive impact on patient safety, it may not address the immediate or lingering problem of doctor error. In cases where the patient is injured due to the negligence of a medical professional, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be the right option to recover compensation for any unexpected expenses or other financial harm done. Improvement in rates is always a positive, but an individual patient suffering the effects of an error should know they have options.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine, "Johns Hopkins Malpractice Study: Surgical 'Never Events' Occur At Least 4,000 Times Per Year," Dec. 19, 2012

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