What Are Surgical Never Events?

Photo of surgeons at workThe term “never event,” coined by the former CEO of the National Quality Forum, refers to medical errors that should never happen, such as performing surgery on the wrong part of the body, leaving an object inside the body after surgery, or performing surgery on the wrong patient. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 71 percent of never events are fatal. Furthermore, the incidence of never events is a reliable indicator of a hospital’s overall safety practices.

Are Never Events Common? Can They Be Prevented?

Never events may be rare for an individual hospital, occurring once every five to ten years; however, nationally, they occur at least 4,000 times every year, according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins. Across the country, foreign objects like sponges or scissors are left inside a patient’s body after surgery 39 times a week. Moreover, the researchers believe that the real incidence of never events is much higher than their estimates since some patients fail to notice or report them.

Healthcare organizations are taking it upon themselves to reduce the frequency of never events. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stopped paying for additional costs incurred after never events and other preventable surgical errors. Furthermore, public reporting of never events promotes hospital accountability and transparency. In the past decade, over ten states have passed laws mandating the reporting of never events. Some states even require public investigations into the root cause of the never event incidents.

The researchers found that many never events could be prevented by requiring a pre-surgery “timeout” period during which surgeons and their staff ensure that their surgical agenda matches the medical records and that the medical records match the patient. In addition, wrong site surgery could be prevented by using indelible ink to designate the area. By keeping an electronic record of all objects involved in an operation, surgeons and staff could be alerted about an object left inside of a patient. The Johns Hopkins team concluded that all never events and subsequent fatalities and infections are preventable if surgeons would follow all pre- and post-operation safety procedures.

Who Can I Turn To After A Never Event?

Despite institutional measures to promote hospital accountability, never events still happen often. Few victims of never events recover from the accident and those who do face serious risk of debilitating infections. Medical malpractice can leave victims injured, out of work and needing life-long care for the injuries sustained at the hands of a negligent surgeon.

Though the task may seem daunting at first, taking legal action against a hospital to recover the compensation that you need for your injuries is possible with the assistance of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. If you have any questions about what legal resources are available to you after a never event, the Columbia attorneys of Proffitt & Cox, LLP would be glad to provide the answers if you get in touch with us.

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