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This is Michael Brady Lynch, lead trial attorney for The Michael Brady Lynch Firm.
The data is out about the safety of hospital operating rooms, and simply put, the news is not good.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins say that the medical profession has failed miserably in preventing the easiest of medical mistakes, the 4,044 so-called “never events” which includes such errors such as including leaving a foreign object such as a sponge inside a patient’s body, that occur in the United States each year.
You almost have to admire how the most egregious of examples of medical malpractice are coined “never events.” These medical tragedies are known as “never events” because they are the kind of mistakes that should never happen in medicine, like operating on the wrong patient or sewing someone up with a clamp still inside. It is frightening to realize that research reveals that this kind of medical malpractice, which by definition literally should never happen, is in fact occuring with alarming frequency.
In a study recently published online in the journal Surgery, researchers identified 9,744 malpractice payments tied to surgical ‘never events’ between September 1990 and September 2010.  The reseachers looked at at only the most extreme case of medical negligences that rises to “never event” status, for example, leaving an object inside a patient, wrong-site surgeries, wrong procedures and wrong-patient surgeries. A breakdown of the data reveals the statistical prevelance of such horrible surgical mistakes as follows:
Foreign object left behind 49.8%
Wrong procedure 25.1%
Wrong site 24.8%
Wrong patient 0.3%
These events are costing the insurance and healthcare industries to the tune of billions of dollars. In light of the fact that such errors are entirely preventable, the medical and insurance industries have no one to blame but themselves. Nonetheless, the insurance industry passes along the increased costs from preventable “never events” to the doctors in terms of increased premiums. The medical profession then passes along their share of the payments for preventable malpractice to patients in terms of higher health care costs. I know of no other industry in which this blatant bilking of the American consumer is done with such self-rightous zeal.
Between 1990 and 2010, malpractice payments for such ‘never events’ reported to the practitioner database totaled $1.3 billion. The average payment for such gross negligence, bordering on criminal conduct, was $133,055. Wrong procedures were the “costliest” payouts, with a median payment of $106,777. The lowest payouts were for foreign objects left behind, with a median payment of $33,953. Between 1990 and 2010, malpractice payments for such ‘never events’ reported to the practitioner database totaled $1.3 billion. The “average” payment for such gross negligence 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.
This begs the question – what incentive does a surgeon have to improve his/her safety profile when the cost for leaving a sponge in a patient is a mere $33,000, paid for entirely by an insurance company? No wonder such malpractice is occuring with such frequency!
The next time you hear your local surgeon complaining about premiums or campaigning your local politician to pass laws for “tort reform” because of rising medical costs, please remind them of the costs associated with “never events” and ask what they are doing to police their own industry.
And what is constantly overshadowed is that it is not just money that is involved – these mistakes cost the lives of thousands of Americans. In the 9,744 cases identified between 1990 and 2010, over 6% of patients died, 32.9% had permanent injury and 59.2% suffered temporary injury. The research supports the fundamental position that entirely preventable surgical errors are some of the most deadliest of medical malpractice mistakes in all of medicine. And conveniently the insurance and medical professions are dead-set on keeping all of the data a well kept secret from the public.
The sad fact is that the reported data of surgical “never event” errors are only the tip of the iceberg and fail to reveal the true scope and prevalence of preventable surgical errors. The statistics fail to mention that many patients never file claims after surgical errors come to light and not all items left behind after surgery are discovered. Typically, sponges, clamps and other items left in surgical sites are found only when a patient experiences a complication after surgery, such as an infection. For illustrative purposes, it has been estimated that as many as one in three or four retained sponges are never discovered. This means the actual rate and annual numbers of “never events” and other preventable surgical malpractice is much higher than the rates reported to the public.
Even more troubling is that there exists an established agreement between hospitals and surgeons to further hide the true data by way of a little legal mumbo-jumbo.  By law, hospitals are required to report events that result in a settlement or judgment to the database. However, this law has been circumvented in a most devious way. Data reporting annual rates of surgical “never events” have been manipulated by the medical community to show a false decreased in such malpratice. This is accomplished by a loophole in reporting that allows hospitals the leeway not to name individual doctors on settlements under some circumstances, and thus not report the malpractice to the practitioner database. It is scandalous practice that lets the worst “never event” offenders off the hook entirely.
If you or a loved one was the victim of a surgical error such as leaving an object inside a patient, a wrong-site surgery, a wrong procedure or a wrong-patient surgery, please contact The Michael Brady Lynch Firm for a no-cost, confidential evaluation of your case.
About the Firm: The Michael Brady Lynch Firm is a trial firm with a focus on pharmaceutical mass tort cases involving SSRI and Anti-Seizure Medication Birth Defects such as Lexapro, Zoloft, Effexor, Prozac, Celexa, Paxil, Depakote and Topamax, as well as Actos Bladder Cancer, Pradaxa bleeding and Fosamax Femur Fractures, and medical device cases including DePuy Hip and Trans-Vaginal Mesh cases. Contact us today if you or someone you know has experienced side effects involving these products.

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