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What is a “never event” surgical mistake?

Not all instances of medical malpractice are the same. In some Rhode Island cases, healthcare providers may make errors that result in minor harms. On the other hand, certain types of medical interventions are at high risk for serious injuries. The invasiveness of surgical procedures, for example, increases the chance that an error will lead to a severe complication. As such, strong steps should be taken to eliminate all preventable surgical errors, which are also known as “never event” surgical mistakes.

According to a study published by Johns Hopkins Medicine, about 80,000 never event errors were committed from 1990 to 2010. The study found that in 6.6 percent of cases, these errors resulted in patient fatalities. In 32.9 percent of cases, patients were left with permanent injuries. Included in the never event category are the following types of errors:

  • Leaving foreign objects in a patient
  • Incorrect surgical procedures
  • Removing the wrong body part or organ
  • Operating on the wrong area

Despite the severity of these types of mistakes, the researchers of the report actually believe their estimates are on the low end. This is partially because never event errors are usually only discovered when they result in a complication. If patients do not experience any problems or issue formal complaints, it is not likely that their surgeons’ errors will be reported.

As these mistakes are preventable, the study argues that the next logical step is creating policies and training procedures that will eliminate them. The report notes that the best way to begin this process is to properly track the occurrence of never events. Gaining a better understanding of the overall problem, researchers say, is an important part of prevention. 

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