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Surgical 'never events' occurring 4,000 times annually, says study

We've all heard the horror stories: someone goes in for a simple surgery only to discover upon waking that they are missing a limb. Generally, people across the nation, including here in Maryland, assume that medical mistakes like this happen more often in movies than they do in real life. But a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore suggests that these mistakes could be happening more than we think.

The study, which was conducted by Martin Makary and his colleagues at the university, analyzed records from a national repository of medical malpractice claims between 1990 and 2010. After looking over more than 80,000 records, researchers estimated that there are about 4,000 surgical 'never events'-or occurrences that should never happen, such as operations on the wrong body part-that occur every year.

Even more startling was the data regarding foreign objects left in the body by surgeons. The researchers estimated that, in the United States, a foreign object such as a sponge or surgical instrument is left inside a patient's body about 39 times a week.

Although hospitals are required by law to report these medical mistakes, researchers think that the records over the last two decades may be lower than the real amount because not all items left behind are ever discovered.

"There are mistakes in healthcare that are not preventable ... [like] infection rates," points out Makary who goes on to explain that a majority of the 'never happen' events are totally preventable and a reason for concern among patients across the nation.

Source: The Clinical Advisor, "Surgical 'never events' occur at least 4,000 times annually," Ann W. Latrier, JD, Jan. 28, 2013

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