'Never' medical malpractice incidents are actually common

In the Pittsburgh medical community, there are types of surgical errors that are so injurious to patients yet seemingly so easy to prevent that they are called "never events." In an unfortunate irony, surgeons and medical staff regularly commit never events against their patients. As a result, patients are harmed by such things as foreign objects left in their bodies or body parts that should not have been operated on, due to the medical malpractice of doctors and nurses.

According to the medical journal Surgery, between September 1990 and September 2010, 9,744 medical malpractice cases involving accusations of a never event ended in some form of compensation paid to the patient, either in the form of a judgment or a settlement. That translates to at least 478 never events per year in the U.S. The most common form of never event is leaving a foreign object in the patient's body after surgery, often a surgical sponge. Another never event that surgeons commit is to perform surgery on the wrong body part, for example operating on the left kidney instead of the right.

The consequences of these sorts of errors, which are generally preventable using clear methods of communication between surgical team members, can be very serious. In the journal study, researchers found that 59 percent of patients affected by a never event from 2004 to 2010 suffered temporary injury, while 33 percent were permanently harmed. Around 6.6 percent died as a result.

Many hospitals have instituted policies requiring surgeons and team members to use checklists and other methods to improve communication and prevent misunderstandings. However, patients who are injured by a surgical error may be able to receive compensation from the medical professionals responsible.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Deadly surgical errors common," Dec. 20, 2012

· Our law firm helps older people who were injured by a surgical error or other form of medical malpractice. Please visit our Pittsburgh medical malpractice page for more information.