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Medical Malpractice Study at Johns Hopkins Finds Over 4,000 Preventable Surgical Mistakes Occur Each Year

March 15, 2013, by Thomas C. Cardaro

449234_hospital_room.jpg Researchers at Johns Hopkins University based in Baltimore, Maryland have released a new study detailing the frequency of incontrovertible medical malpractice occurrences in the United States. The study, led by Marty Makary, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, found that approximately 4,044 surgical “never events” occur in this country every year. “Never events” as the phrase suggests, are mistakes that physicians universally agree should never happen during surgery (i.e., operating on the wrong body part).

The study estimates that in the United States a surgeon leaves a foreign object such as a sponge or towel inside a patient’s body after an operation 39 times per week, performs the wrong procedure on a patient 20 times per week, and operates on the wrong body site 20 times per week.

Researchers estimated that 80,000 never events occurred in American hospitals between 1990 and 2010. They also added that the actual number of never events is likely higher. To be sure, many more medical errors occur every year beyond these “never event” cases. One study by the Institute of Medicine found that as many as 98,000 people die each year as a result of preventable medical errors.

Another study concluded that these types of never events are caused by, among other things, miscommunication, errors in diagnosis, judgment errors, and failure to perform a “time-out” before beginning surgery.

In a New York Times Op-Ed, Frederick S. Southwick, M.D., a professor of medicine, wrote about the loss of his leg that was caused by a preventable medical error. His life-altering injury, he wrote, could have been prevented by simply following checklists, best practice protocols, or automatic alarm systems and shutoff switches.

Dr. Makary stated that never events are “totally preventable.” Although there are currently procedures in place that are designed to prevent never events, Dr. Makary acknowledged that “we are nowhere near where we should be and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Over the last 20 years, medical malpractice judgments and claims from these “never event” cases totaled $1.3 billion in payments. Nearly one-third of these cases resulted in permanent injury to the patient and 6.6 percent resulted in death.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury as a result of a never event or any other type of medical negligence, contact the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Cardaro & Peek, LLC at (410) 752-6166. Our trial attorneys have decades of experience litigating medical malpractice claims and have consistently recovered millions of dollars for our clients each year.

Press Release, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins Malpractice Study: Surgical ‘Never Events’ Occur at Least 4,000 Times Per Year (Dec. 19, 2012).