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Why Do Hospital “Never Events” Keep Happening?

In December 2012, researchers at Johns Hopkins released a landmark study of surgical malpractice revealing that an estimated 4,000 so-called “never events” occur in American hospitals each year. A never event is a mistake during a surgical procedure which is entirely preventable and easily eliminated through proper protocols and surgical team communication. These include leaving a foreign object, such as a sponge or a towel, inside a patient’s body after an operation (estimated to happen 39 times a week), performing the wrong procedure on a patient (20 times a week) and operating on the wrong body site (20 times a week).

In the three years since that study, hospitals have responded by reinforcing existing protocols and adopting new strategies, such as allowing any member of the surgical team to call a stop to a procedure.

Whether such steps have reduced the frequency of never events is difficult to say with any precision. But a recent report from the Boston Globe reveals that Massachusetts hospitals have not made much progress. The Department of Public Health’s annual study of serious, reportable errors reveals that full-service MA hospitals made 821 preventable errors that harmed or endangered patients in 2014. These included 41 objects left behind after surgery, 24 operations on the wrong part of the body, and 290 serious injuries or deaths after a fall.

In addition, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Surgery estimated that on average each year, operations are performed on the wrong body part 500 times and unintended items are left in the body 5,000 times. JAMA Surgery names poor communication as the culprit, but also noted that efforts to prevent never events were effective.

It’s important to understand that a never event is always malpractice. If you or a loved one has been injured due to a surgical mistake, Brown, Novick & McKinley is prepared to help. To schedule a free consultation in Woodbury, NJ, call 866-942-4909 or contact us online.