Surgeons Make Thousands of Errors

Laura Landro in her article in the Wall Street Journal, Surgeons Make Thousands of Errors reveals that “researchers at Johns Hopkins say that despite efforts to improve surgical safety, 4,044 so-called “never events,” including leaving a foreign object such as a sponge inside a patient’s body, occur in the U.S. each year.”

Ms. Landro goes on to explain why these so called event s are called never events: because they are “the kind of mistake that should never happen in medicine, like operating on the wrong patient or sewing someone up with a sponge still inside–yet new research suggests that they happen with alarming frequency.”

The article states that “Researchers identified 9,744 malpractice payments tied to surgical ‘never events’ between September 1990 and September 2010. A breakdown:

  • Foreign object left behind 49.8%
  • Wrong procedure 25.1%
  • Wrong site 24.8%
  • Wrong patient 0.3%
  • Between 1990 and 2010, malpractice payments for such ‘never events’ reported to a database totaled $1.3 billion.
  • The mean payment was$133,055.
  • Wrong procedures were the costliest ‘never events,’ with a median payment of $106,777.
  • The lowest payouts were for foreign objects left behind, with a median payment of$33,953.”

The article looks deeper into the statistics of the 9,744 cases identified between 1990 and 2010 by stating that “just over 6% of patients died, 32.9% had permanent injury and 59.2% suffered temporary injury, according to the researchers. Based on the number of paid claims and a prior study that estimated that only 12% of surgical adverse events result in indemnity payments, the researchers arrived at an estimate that at least 4,082 mistakes actually occur in the U.S. each year.”

The article quotes, associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, Martin Makary, who was the lead author of the study saying of the statistics that “estimates are likely low; previous studies have shown that many patients never file claims after errors. And not all items left behind after surgery are discovered. Typically, they are found only when a patient experiences a complication after surgery, such as an infection, and efforts are made to find out why, he said. As many as one in three or four retained sponges may never be discovered, [also stating that] surgical mistakes are “totally preventable”".

The article shows that Hospitals have bolstered support for change by “working for years on safety programs to reduce such events, including “timeouts” before surgery to make sure they have the right patient or are about to operate on the right body part. New technology, such as bar-coding and wandlike scanners waved over a patient, allows surgical teams to account for all sponges and other products used in a procedure. Other steps include using indelible ink to mark the site of the surgery before the patient goes under anesthesia.”

The article defends the efforts of the hospitals by quoting, Nancy Foster, vice president of safety and quality for the American Hospital Association, who highlighted the fact that the “study covers years before many prevention efforts were put in place that have reduced such incidents, which remain relatively rare among the more than 53 million surgeries annually in the U.S.”

Lastly the article quotes from Harvard University patient-safety expert Lucian Leape who criticized the study saying it had “limitations: It is not an actual count of events but rather an extrapolation from malpractice claims and reports to the database. But while it is “dangerous to get away from actual measurement, on the other hand, the results are probably in the ballpark”".

If you have questions about a potential malpractice claim where you were injured by a medical provider, call Brabant & Huynh LLP at 617-934-0913 . We are located in Quincy and Dorchester and serve the greater Boston area. We will be glad to help you evaluate your case and ease the burden of going through the process.