Surgical errors more common than people think

7934619_sWhile there is always some risk associated with each surgery that occurs in Chicago, patients have a right to expect to receive the minimum standard of care, no matter what facility at which they are being treated. However, a Johns Hopkins University study has revealed that the rate of surgical errors that should never occur for any reason, or never events, happen at least 4,000 times each year in the U.S.

Never events happen often

Patient safety researchers reviewed and analyzed medical malpractice claims and found that between 1990 and 2010, 80,000 never events occurred in American hospitals. Additionally, they estimate that a sponge or towel is inadvertently left inside a patient’s body during an operation 39 times each week, doctors perform the wrong surgery on patients 20 times a week, and they fail to operate on the correct body site 20 times a week. Other surgical never events include the following:

  • Surgery is performed on the wrong patient
  • Patient given the wrong medication, resulting in patient’s death or serious disability
  • Patient dies or becomes seriously disabled after receiving the wrong type of blood during a transfusion
  • The line designated to provide a patient with oxygen or another gas delivers the wrong gas or is contaminated 

Researches also believe these occurrences to be even higher than reported. While hospitals are required by law to report never events that result in a judgment or settlement, patients can only seek compensation if they have complications that lead to discovery of a problem. Many more occurrences are likely happening without patients’ or doctors’ knowledge.

Preventing never events

Hospitals have implemented various procedures to help reduce never events from occurring, although their success has been limited. During operations, surgical teams take time-outs to ensure that they have the correct patient and that surgical plans are in accordance with the patient’s wishes. Surgeons also use ink to pre-operatively mark and designate the area on which they are to operate to help ensure that they do not operate on the wrong area or remove any incorrect body parts.

The time-honored practice of counting sponges and tools throughout a procedure to ensure that they are not inadvertently left inside the patient is still strongly adhered to, although it is proving largely ineffective and, according to the Annals of Surgery, may fail up to 13 percent of the time. To counteract this common never event, hospitals can now bar-code or place radio frequency identification chips in sponges to make them easier to locate if they are misplaced. However, many Illinois hospitals have not taken advantage of the technology, citing cost as a deterrent.