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Surgical “Never Events” Cause Serious Injuries and Fatalities

Surgical mistakes made by doctors often result in serious injuries and fatalities. And many of these mistakes absolutely never should have happened - they could have been easily avoided if the surgeons involved followed proper protocol to ensure patient safety. These aptly named "never events" have become some of the most common causes of injuries or fatalities due to surgical errors.

What is a "never event"?

As the name suggests, "never events" are surgical errors or other medical errors that never should have happened in the first place - they are completely avoidable if doctors follow appropriate protocol. Many "never events" are in a class called "wrong-site, wrong-procedure, wrong-patient errors" (WSPEs), according to an analysis published this year by the Patient Safety NetPicture of despair doctor after failed medical operationwork (PSN), a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publication.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article last year about surgical "never events." Entitled "Wrong-Site Surgery, Retained Surgical Items, and Surgical Fires" and published in August 2015, the JAMA Surgery article stated that "serious, preventable surgical events, termed never events, continue to occur despite considerable patient safety efforts."

The JAMA Surgery article stated that "never events" occur in 0.09 events per 10,000 surgical procedures in the United States. These statistics were based on an analysis of 9 electronic databases which contained information about surgeries performed nationwide between 2004 and 2014.

What are common surgical "never events"?

There are many kinds of surgical "never events." Some of the most common examples include:

  • Operating on the wrong patient
  • Performing the wrong operation
  • Leaving medical instruments in a patient's body after surgery
  • Removing the wrong internal organ
  • Amputating or operating on the wrong limb
  • Using unsterilized medical instruments
  • Giving the wrong type of blood during transfusions
  • Inserting feeding tubes into a patient's lungs instead of the stomach

These and other medical events are a growing problem - in New York and around the world.

  • Nationwide, medical errors have been responsible for more than 250,000 deaths per year on average since 1999, making medical errors the third leading cause of death nationwide, according to a recent scientific study published this year and covered by news organizations around the country, including The New York Times. In light of this information, "never events" have received increased scrutiny as they are among the most blatant and preventable of medical errors.
  • WPIX 11 News in New York recently reported on a Worcester hospital that allegedly removed a kidney from the wrong patient. According to an analysis of Massachusetts Department of Public Health records by The Boston Globe, preventable medical errors increased by 60 percent last year in full-service hospitals in Massachusetts.
  • Overseas, a recent analysis by the Press Association revealed that more than 1,110 English patients in the last four years sustained serious injuries due to medical mistakes that never should have happened, according to BBC News and many other news outlets.

Why do surgical "never events" occur?

Surgical "never events" occur in hospitals and other health care facilities for a wide range of reasons. One of the most common reasons cited in the August 2015 JAMA Surgery article about "never events" was inadequate communication between surgeons and other medical professionals. When surgeons do not appropriately communicate, they often put patients at risk by missing steps such as removing surgical tools from the patient's body before closing the incision.

Another common cause of "never events" involves illegible handwriting. Doctors' having bad handwriting isn't just a cliché - it's a potentially deadly safety hazard for their patients. Poorly written medical records or instructions for fellow surgeons or nurses can be misread and misinterpreted. The wrong medication or dosage amount might be dispensed, resulting in serious, life-threatening injuries.

Other reasons why surgical "never events" occur include:

  • Patients with similar names
  • Medical records placed in wrong file
  • Medical professionals operate without following Universal Protocol procedures

What all these "never events" have in common, however, is that they are completely preventable. There is absolutely no excuse for doctors and other medical professionals to put patients at risk by failing to follow basic protocols.

Legal options available to victims of "never events"

When surgical "never events" occur, many patients and their families assume that there's nothing they can do afterwards. They might simply accept whatever financial compensation they're offered by a hospital or its insurance company. Unfortunately, settlement offers from hospitals or insurance companies rarely cover the true cost of a surgical "never event." In addition to medical expenses - which often include additional surgery to correct the initial error - families need to consider lost income, lost future earnings, pain and suffering and more.

Experienced New York medical malpractice lawyer Jonathan C. Reiter takes all of these issues into consideration when building a legal case for a victim of a surgical "never event" in New York City. Mr. Reiter and his team know how to investigate these claims and find the evidence needed to build a successful legal case.

Surgeons and hospitals rarely admit wrongdoing - but they always need to be held accountable. That's why victims of "never events" need to aggressively pursue justice and demand the compensation they rightfully deserve.

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