Unthinkable Medical Errors Happen Too Frequently

It would appear that incidents of medical malpractice, which are totally preventable, happen more often than one would think possible. According to a recent press release, Johns Hopkins patient safety researchers estimate that a surgeon in the United States leaves a foreign object such as a sponge or a towel inside a patient’s body after an operation 39 times a week, performs the wrong procedure on a patient 20 times a week and operates on the wrong body site 20 times a week. The researchers, reporting online in the journal Surgery, say they estimate that 80,000 of these so-called "never events" occurred in American hospitals between 1990 and 2010 - and believe their estimates are likely on the low side. "There are mistakes in health care that are not preventable. Infection rates will likely never get down to zero even if everyone does everything right, for example," says study leader Marty Makary, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "But the events we’ve estimated are totally preventable. This study highlights that we are nowhere near where we should be and there’s a lot of work to be done." For the study, Makary and his colleagues used the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a federal repository of medical malpractice claims, to identify malpractice judgments and out-of-court settlements related to retained-foreign-body (leaving a sponge or other object inside a patient), wrong-site, wrong-procedure and wrong-patient surgeries. They identified 9,744 paid malpractice judgments and claims over those 20 years, with payments totaling $1.3 billion. Death occurred in 6.6 percent of patients, permanent injury in 32.9 percent and temporary injury in 59.2 percent. Using published rates of surgical adverse events resulting in a malpractice claim, the researchers estimate that 4,044 surgical never events occur in the United States each year. The more serious the outcome, the more the patient (or his family) was paid. "There’s good reason to believe these were all legitimate claims," he says. "A claim of a sponge left behind, for example, can be proven by taking an X-ray." If anything, he says, his team’s estimates of never events are low because not all items left behind after surgery are discovered. Typically, they are found only when a patient experiences a complication after surgery and efforts are made to find out why, Makary says. If you believe you are the victim of medical malpractice call us for a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney at 1-800-LAWLINE (1-800-529-5463).

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