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What is a surgical never-event?

Surgical never-events are preventable mistakes that occur in the operating room, and often have devastating outcomes. There is no reason these events should ever occur, yet they do. Moreover, they are much more common than doctors and hospitals would like you to believe.

Where did the term “never-event” come from?

In 2001, the National Quality Forum (NQF) introduced the phrase “never-event” to describe entirely preventable medical errors that can have serious or even deadly effects. The NQF has since compiled and revised a list of 29 never-events, all of which are both serious enough to lead to death or significant disability and almost entirely preventable.

The latest update to the list, issued in 2011, lists more than two dozen never-events grouped into seven categories.

  • Surgical
  • Care management
  • Radiologic
  • Patient protection
  • Product/device
  • Environmental
  • Criminal

You can view the full list on the NQF website.

What does the list include as surgical never-events?

According to the NQF’s list of never-events, those that fall under the surgical category include:

How common are surgical never-events?

According to a study published in the journal Surgery in 2012 by researchers at Johns Hopkins, more than 4,000 surgical never-events occur in the United States each year. This total, on average, includes:

  • 39 cases of accidental retention of a foreign object each week
  • 20 cases of wrong surgery each week
  • 20 cases of wrong site surgery each week

As this shows, some surgical never-events are much more common than others. A 2006 study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality analyzed records of almost 3 million surgeries in the two decades between 1985 and 2004.

The researchers found a wrong-site surgery rate of 1 in 112,994 operations. This means the average hospital has only one of these never-events every five to ten years. According to the study, the rate for retained foreign bodies, however, is more than ten times higher.

What leads to a surgical never-event occurring?

Most surgical never-events have more than one root cause. Four common root causes contribute to these incidents, although others are possible. Another common cause is a medical team not following the surgical “time out” process.

What type of damages can result from a surgical never-event?

When doctors make serious mistakes, the patient pays for them. Victims of surgical never-events and their families often have to live with major physical, emotional, and financial repercussions. In the most serious surgical never-events, the patient passes away due to the incident.

If a patient does survive the surgical never-event, they often have to contend with prolonged hospitalization and an even longer recovery time. Many have new medical issues to contend with because of the unnecessary or improper surgery. In cases where medical professionals conducted the wrong surgery or operated on the wrong body part, they did not address the original reason for needing surgery meaning the patient must undergo another operation.

Should I talk to a lawyer?

Prolonged hospitalization and recovery leads to high out-of-pocket medical costs, a lot of missed work, thousands of dollars in missed wages, and pain and suffering. If you believe you or a loved one are the victim of a surgical never-event, speak to a medical malpractice attorney right away.

You may be eligible to file a medical malpractice claim to cover your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you were the victim of a surgical never-event in the Atlanta area, contact medical malpractice attorney Jason Schultz today at 404-474-0804. We can help you get the compensation you deserve.


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