Study Finds Surgical Errors Commonplace

Surgical errors, especially those determined to be “never” events are too often commonplace occurrences, according to a new study published in the medical journal Surgery. According to the study, such surgical errors occur on average 500 times per year. Such surgical errors include leaving medical equipment in the body after surgery, wrong-site surgeries, and operating on the wrong patient.
The study notes, “nearly half of those cases were ones in which surgeons left an object inside the patient by accident (the most common object was a sponge). The other half were cases of surgeons operating on the wrong part of the body or performing the wrong procedure. And perhaps most disturbing, 17 cases were of surgeons operating on the wrong person altogether.
And based on an analysis of data from 2004 to 2010, the study authors found that 6.6 percent of these so-called never events actually ended in death for the patients. Furthermore, 33 percent of these patients were left with a permanent injury and 59 percent suffered a temporary injury.
Patients who received the wrong procedure had the highest odds of death or injury. The study also found that younger patients had a better chance of surviving a never event than did patients over the age of 60.
The study authors noted that these findings were gleaned only from paid malpractice claims. Winta T. Mehtsun, the lead author on the study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said it is difficult to know just how many cases of never events have actually occurred because they were not able to get data on unpaid claims or never events that not been pursued.
But based on the data, Mehtsun said surgeries have cost the healthcare industry about $1.3 billion in malpractice payments over the study period.”