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What Is a Surgical Never Event?

When a person undergoes surgery, they usually assume that the procedure will improve the quality of their life. However, because of human error, many things can go wrong during a surgery. Preventable incidents that should never have happened are referred to as “never events.” Never events that can happen during a surgery include operating on the wrong part of the body, performing the wrong procedure, leaving instruments inside the body, or having the wrong medical device implanted.

While some never events can be devastating, like having a body part wrongly removed, others can be fatal. Never events occur more frequently than most people think. In fact, a BBC investigation revealed more than 750 recorded instances of never events that have taken place throughout England in the past 4 years. It’s important to note that the complexity of a patient’s medical condition and a surgeon’s technical competence are not the only determinants of how a person will recover after surgery. Surgical harm can sometimes be caused by a lack of communication or poor teamwork.

Examples of surgical never events include:

  • Wrong Site Surgery
  • Wrong Implant/Prosthesis
  • Retained Foreign Object Post-Operation

Recently, John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland conducted a research study on patient safety. Interestingly, their study estimated that "a surgeon in the United States leaves a foreign object such as a sponge or towel inside a patient's body after an operation 39 times a week, performs the wrong procedure on a patient 20 times a week, and operates on the wrong body site 20 times a week." Furthermore, researchers concluded that about 4,044 never events occur in the United States every year.

Hospitals have safeguards in place to to prevent these types of mistakes. Most surgical teams have instituted mandatory "time-outs" in the operating room. During these time-outs, the surgical team is required to match their surgical plans with the patient on the table. The teams are also required to count items like sponges and towels before and after surgery. However, many critics feel that more needs to be done, including public reporting of surgical never events.

Have more questions about surgical never events? Contact our team of Washington DC medical malpractice attorneys to learn how we can help you today.