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Malpractice study finds alarming rate of surgical 'never events'

When patient safety researchers use the term "never events," they are talking about harmful and completely preventable surgical errors such as leaving a foreign object inside a patient's body or operating on the wrong part of the body altogether. While it seems unfathomable that such surgical errors take place in any situations, a new study has found that they are more common that most of us would like to believe. To make matters more troubling, the researchers admitted that their estimates are probably on the low side.

In the study, researchers examined the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is a federal collection of medical malpractice claims. Hospitals are required to report never events that result in a malpractice case and judgment to the data bank, which makes it a highly reliable method of cataloguing and reporting those events.

Specifically, the researchers looked for medical malpractice verdicts and settlements that were related to never events, and ultimately found that nearly 80,000 total claims were resolved in the 20 years between 1990 and 2010. This allowed them to conclude that approximately 4,000 never events take place in Connecticut and throughout the United States every year.

The most common never events included the leaving of foreign objects inside patients, operating on the wrong side of the body and operating on the completely wrong part of the body. Interestingly, the same age group of patients and surgeons - 40 to 49 - were most likely to be subjected to and commit the errors, respectively.

More than 60 percent of the surgeons included in the reports were cited in more than one different error report. Clearly, action needs to be taken to educate and prevent these events from taking place in the future.

Source: Science Daily, "Malpractice Study: Surgical 'Never Events' Occur at Least 4,000 Times Per Year in U.S.," Dec. 19, 2012

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