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Medical Malpractice: "Never events" occur too often

There are approximately 50 million surgeries performed in the United States each year. Denver readers might find a recent study of medical malpractice claims rather interesting in that researchers discovered that there were about 10,000 cases of what are commonly referred to as "never events" over a ten year period. Never events include instruments or sponges being left in the patient, wrong site surgery and even surgery done on the wrong patient.

Using data from previous studies, it was estimated that nearly 90 percent of the patients involved in cases of surgery mistakes receive no settlement. Therefore, the number used to calculate the annual number of never events is just over 4,000, which averaged about 79 events a week.

The most common never event by far is leaving surgical sponges, needles or surgical instruments inside a patient after surgery. The wrong surgical procedure is second, followed closely by operating on the wrong site of the body. Surgery being performed on the wrong patient is last and an extremely rare event. It was estimated that settlements in the study cost $1.3 billion over a 10-year period with the average payment being just over $133,000.

It is probably fair to ask what is being done to cut down or eliminate never events. There is a three-step universal protocol that is used to make sure the correct patient is getting surgery on the correct site. It involves marking the surgical site, checking the identification bracelet on the patient's arm and time outs to make sure everyone is up to speed with what's going on in the operating room.

Surgical mistakes do happen and when they do it is important that patients understand their rights regarding possible compensation for an incident that could be life altering. In fact, one third of the never event cases studied resulted in a permanent injury to the patient. A medical malpractice attorney may be able to offer advice on structuring a possible settlement or, if it becomes necessary, preparing for a jury trial should you or a loved one be the victim of a surgical mistake.

Source: American Medical News, "Surgical errors: In ORs, "never events" occur 80 times a week," Kevin B. O'Reilly, Jan. 21, 2013

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