Surgical Errors Cost Billions, Damage Lives

MedPage Today is reporting that the financial costs of surgical errors amount to a minimum of $1.3 billion. The data is part of a research project published in the medical journal Surgery.
According to MedPage, “The researchers gathered data on the 9,744 paid malpractice settlements and judgments for surgical “never events” through the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a federal reserve of medical malpractice claims, from Sept. 1, 1990 to Sept. 30, 2010.”
The most common surgical error involved “retained foreign bodies” left in the patient after surgery. This type of error led all other surgical errors (49%). Other errors included surgery on the wrong site, surgery on the wrong patient, or the wrong surgical procedure carried out on the right patient. These errors are considered “never” events but are disturbingly common. As a result of these surgical errors, patients suffered temporary injury (59.2%), permanent injury occurred in 32.9% of “never event” cases, and 6.6% of cases resulted in death. Cases of death were more common in patients 60 and older than in those younger than 60 (14.8% versus 4%).
According to MedPage, “By healthcare professional characteristics, physicians, ages 40 to 49, were responsible for the majority of reports (35.8%), followed by those ages 60 and older (14.4%). Nearly two-thirds of those involved in one malpractice case were also involved in at least one other (62%). Only 10% of those who were responsible for a “never event” were disciplined at least once by their state licensing board.
The authors found that physicians with clinical privilege or state licensure disciplinary action reports were more likely to be named in multiple “never event” reports than were those who had no reports of clinical privilege or disciplinary actions (adjusted odds ratio 1.73, 95% CI 1.47 to 2.03).
A great majority of “never event” malpractice claims were settled out of court (96%), while court judgments increased the odds of a higher-than average payment nearly threefold (aOR 2.75, 95% CI 2.18 to 3.47).”