Most people are aware that there are risks associated with any surgery. Doctors discuss such risks as reactions to anesthesia, excessive bleeding and blood clots prior to performing surgery in order to get their patients’ informed consent to the surgery. However, what most patients do not expect is that their doctors may make mistakes during surgery that could amount to malpractice – and are entirely preventable. A 2012 study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine revealed that surgery errors are still a major problem in the U.S. healthcare system.

Documenting “never events”

A never event is a mistake during surgery that should never occur because they are totally preventable. Some examples of never events include leaving foreign objects like sponges, towels or scalpels inside patients, operating on the wrong side of the body or wrong body part and performing the wrong surgical procedure.

Researchers examined data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, on online storehouse of medical malpractice judgments and out-of-court settlements for malpractice claims maintained by the federal government. Of the 9,744 cases they analyzed, a little over 6 percent of the patients died as a result of the errors, 32.9 percent suffered permanent injures and 59.2 had temporary injuries. The errors occurred most often in patients aged 40 to 49 years old. Surgeons in the same age group made the most surgery errors, at a rate of one-third. By comparison, surgeons over 60 years old made 14 percent of the errors. Healthcare providers paid about $1.3 billion dollars for these surgical errors.

The researchers estimated that 80,000 never events occurred between 1990 and 2010, or about 4,000 preventable mistakes each year. The believe that surgeons leave objects in patients 39 times a week, operate on the wrong part of the body 20 times a week and perform the wrong procedure 20 times a week.

They based their estimate on the number of documented claims and a previous study that showed only about 12 percent of adverse surgical events result in payments by healthcare providers. The study’s authors feel their estimate may even be too low.

Changing healthcare

The study’s authors say that determining the extent of the problem of never events occurring during surgery is crucial to fixing it. The authors noted that some risks accompanying surgery, such as post-operation infections or other complications, can never be eliminated, these never events can be. Unless healthcare providers know how often such errors occur, they cannot begin to implement policies and procedure to prevent them.

Seek legal help

Patients rely on healthcare providers to use due care when operating. When doctors fail to use caution, patients suffer. If you have been injured by a doctor’s mistake, talk to an attorney with a proven record of success in handling these complicated cases. An attorney can help you recover the compensation you need to assist you with the expenses incurred in healing from your injuries.