People routinely place their lives in the hands of medical professionals like surgeons, trusting that they will be careful and responsible. At the same time, people understand that accidents do happen. Surgery can be a difficult process, and there are some complications, like infections, that may occur even if the doctors do everything right. Still, there are certain surgical mistakes that medical professionals universally agree should never occur.
Generally speaking, these “never events” include leaving surgical implements in a patient, performing operations on the wrong site, performing the wrong type of operation, and performing the surgery on the wrong patient. Despite this universal agreement that such completely preventable mistakes should never happen, a study from Johns Hopkins University reveals that surgeons make these sorts of errors with startling regularity.
The Johns Hopkins Study
The study analyzed data that researchers gleaned from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a database of medical malpractice claims. The law requires hospitals to report preventable surgical errors that lead to legal settlements or judgments against the hospital to the NPDB. This makes the NPDB a repository of data on never events.
The researchers used data from the NPDB and extrapolated out total error rates based on the thousands of medical malpractice judgments and settlements over the last 20 years. They estimate that there are over 4,000 preventable surgical errors in the U.S. every year. These sorts of errors tend to result in a patient's death approximately 6.6 percent of the time, with another 32.9 percent of patients suffering a permanent injury from the never event.
Additionally, the researchers analyzed the patterns of surgeons who make these sorts of mistakes. For instance, they found that surgeons between the ages of 40 and 49 accounted for over one in every three mistakes and that over 10 percent of doctors had been implicated in more than one never event.
Fortunately, there are a variety of precautions that hospitals can take to ensure that these sorts of preventable errors do not occur. For instance, some hospitals have specific protocols in place to inventory surgical implements like towels and sponges before and after a surgery to ensure that the doctors leave nothing behind inside the patient.
Beyond that, many hospitals also use special review procedures at the start of a surgery, ensuring that the patient's records for the surgery match the patient on whom the doctor is about to operate. Additionally, practitioners can also use permanent marker to label the operation site. This can help prevent surgeons from operating in the wrong place or operating on the wrong patient.
If you or one of your loved ones has recently been the victim of a surgical error or other medical mistake, contact a skilled Illinois medical malpractice attorney. Our firm represents injured patients in many different northwest suburban towns, including Schaumburg, Arlington Heights, and Crystal Lake.
About the Author: Attorney Ken Apicella is a founding partner of DGAA focusing in the areas of personal injury, employment, insurance coverage disputes, and civil litigation. Ken earned his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1999. He has been named a SuperLawyers Rising Star and a Forty Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch. Ken has written and lectured for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and regularly serves as a moderator at Northwest Suburban Bar Association's Continuing Legal Education seminars.