While surgery can create a better quality of life or even save the lives of patients, it carries a high level of risk. A surgical error can be devastating for patients and their families. Errors can cause serious, permanent injuries or even death. When a patient enters a hospital for surgery, they assume it has basic safeguards to prevent mistakes.
A “never event” is a preventable error. Especially in medical treatments that have serious consequences for patients. In other words, these mistakes, or events, are so egregious, they should never have happened.
Never events include errors like:
- Surgery performed on the wrong part of the body, such as the wrong knee, wrong tooth, or the wrong eye.
- Invasive surgery performed on the wrong patient.
- Wrong surgical procedure on a patient.
- Foreign objects left inside a patient after surgery.
- Intra-operative or immediately post-operative death in a normal healthy patient.
Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that surgical never events occur at least 4,000 times a year. Over 20 years of never events resulted in 6.6% patient deaths, 32.9% permanent injuries, and 59.2% temporary injuries.
Common surgical errors and their estimated error rates include:
- Retained foreign objects – 49.9%
- Performance of the incorrect procedure – 25.1%
- Surgery performed on the wrong part of the body – 24.8%
- Procedures performed on the wrong patient – 0.3%
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Surprisingly, Johns Hopkins patient safety researchers estimate that 39 times a week, in the United States, a surgeon will leave a foreign object inside a patient. A foreign object can be something like a sponge. Additionally, 20 times a week, an operation will occur on the wrong part of the body. And finally, the wrong surgery happens 20 times a week. In fact, these events are becoming so common, some insurers have decided to no longer pay health care providers. Events such as wrong-site surgery (WSS), wrong-person surgery, or for foreign objects left in a patient’s body are no longer covered.
The Joint Commission found the top 3 causes of surgical error to be:
- Communication error (70%)
- Procedural noncompliance (64%)
- Leadership (46%)