What are surgical never events?

A surgical never event, such as wrong procedures, wrong site surgery and retained objects, should be able to be prevented by medical staff.

Not all visits to the hospital in Rhode Island go as planned. Patients may receive an unexpected diagnosis or suffer from unexplainable complications that are out of anyone's control. Sometimes, however, the events that take place in a medical setting are in fact preventable. A medical never event is defined by the Leapfrog Group as something that is measurable, identifiable and preventable. In other words, a never event should not happen if the right steps are taken by all of the staff members in a facility.

Currently, the list includes 29 events that can be prevented through the creation of special procedures, protocols and policies within health care establishments. These events are further broken down into subcategories, including criminal, patient protection, care management, environmental, product, radiological and surgical never events.

Procedure performed on wrong patient

In rare cases across the country, the wrong procedure may be performed on a patient. According to the Patient Safety Network, this type of never event accounts for 5 percent of the never events reported over the course of a single year.

A wrong procedure could be performed when two patients come into a hospital around the same time. One may need his appendix removed while the other needs her gallbladder taken out. The two patients are sent to the operating room around the same time, but the nursing staff accidently put the patients in the wrong room. This leads to the surgeons performing, or at least starting to perform, the wrong surgery on a patient.

Medical tools left behind

Retained objects account for 12 percent of the never events reported in a single year. Surgeons may leave a wide variety of objects behind, including sponges, surgical gloves or gauze. The retention of these objects can lead to infections, and in some cases death. When caught quickly, never events may have little impact on a patient. However, 71 percent of the never events that are reported end in a fatality.

Surgery performed on wrong body part

When a surgery is done on the wrong body part, it is often referred to as a wrong site surgery. This type of occurrence can happen because of poor communication between a surgeon and the nurses. For example, if a diabetic patient needs to have his or her left foot amputated, hard-to-read notes could lead to a nurse prepping the right foot for surgery. Out of the events reported in a year, 7 percent were surgeries done on the wrong site.

Rhode Island hospitals and medical centers have to follow strict policies to reduce the risk of a never event altering the life of a patient and his or her family. If a surgery is hampered with negligence or miscommunication, it might be helpful to work with an attorney who is familiar with medical malpractice cases.