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What Are Surgical Never Events?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans trust surgeons with their lives and wellbeing. Unfortunately, surgical errors are a reality and they occur more often than you might think. According to a recent study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers, medical errors cause more than 250,000 deaths every year, which would make them the third leading cause of death in the United States. While many surgical errors cause serious consequences, some are so severe that they have been given their own term: Never Events.

The term was coined back in 2001 by the National Quality Forum’s (NQF) former CEO Ken Kizer, MD to describe errors so egregious that they should never occur under any circumstances. According to Johns Hopkins patient safety researchers, there are about 4,000 Never Events every year[1].

Four different types of surgical errors are considered Never Events:

  • Leaving a Foreign Object in a Patient Post-Surgery: Surgeons reportedly leave foreign objects like gloves, sponges, towels, or other types of medical supplies inside of patients 39 times per week. Complications vary depending on where the object was left, as well as what object was left inside the patient. Many cases can cause significant pain and infection, and the most severe can lead to death.
  • Surgery Performed on the Wrong Patient: This type of error is most often caused by miscommunication, a clerical error, or failing to confirm which patient is on the operating table. This type of error occurs approximately 20 times per week, and can lead to anything from unnecessary amputations to organ removal to death.
  • Incorrect Surgery Performed on the Patient: Even when the right patient is on the operating table, miscommunication, a clerical error, or failing to confirm the correct procedure can lead to the incorrect procedure being performed.
  • Surgery Performed on the Wrong Body Part: Again, miscommunication, a clerical error, or failing to confirm the proper location of the surgery can result in the surgeon performing the scheduled surgery on the wrong part of the body. This type of error could lead to the unnecessary removal of perfectly healthy organs or body parts, but can also lead to death if the proper procedure was for an ailment that needed immediate attention.

There are no excuses for Never Events, which is the reason for their moniker. Unfortunately, thousands of people each year fall victim to Never Events and are put at risk of serious complications that could turn what should have been a simple procedure into a life-changing one. At Power Rogers & Smith, L.L.P., our medical malpractice team has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients, including the largest medical malpractice verdict in history. Fill out our online form for a free case evaluation, or call us at (312) 313-0202 to speak with one of our medical malpractice lawyers.

[1] Winta T. Mehtsun, Andrew M. Ibrahim, Marie Diener-West, Peter J. Pronovost, Martin A. Makary. Surgical never events in the United States. Surgery, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.surg.2012.10.005