Malpractice Payments for Surgical “Never Events” Totaled $1.3B: Report

An estimated 4,000 surgical errors occur every year involving “never events,” which are medical mistakes widely accepted as avoidable problems. Over the past 20 years, medical malpractice lawsuits involving such events resulted in more than $1.3 billion dollars in settlements or verdicts, according to a recent report by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.  

The study was published online by the medical journal Surgery on December 18, finding that surgical never events not only cause serious harm for patients, but are also associated substantial costs for the health care system.

Researchers began the study with the goal of quantifying the number of “never events” that occur every year, but they also wanted to determine the magnitude of these surgical events on paid malpractice claims

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“Never events” are characterized as surgical errors that should not occur during or after surgical procedures, if the proper standards of medical care are followed.  These events could include conducting surgery on the wrong patient, operating on the wrong part of a patient’s body or leaving foreign objects, such as sponges or medical equipment, in wounds. These mistakes often lead to further complications following surgery, and cost the health care industry an estimated $1 billion annually.

Until now, little research involving surgical “never events” has been conducted. The study used the National Practitioner Data Bank, a federal repository of medical malpractice claims, to identify malpractice lawsuits, judgements and settlements involving these avoidable surgical mistakes.

Nearly 10,000 malpractice settlements or judgments were discovered between 1990 and 2010, totaling more than $1.3 billion in payments. The study also found that the “never events” led to mortality in nearly 7 percent of these cases, approximately 33 percent of the patients sustained permanent injury and nearly 60 percent of patients sustained temporary injury.

From the data, researchers were able to estimate that more than 4,000 avoidable surgical errors occur in the United States every year.  The data also revealed that 12% of physicians who were involved in surgical “never event” claims were found to be more likely to be involved in another. The physicians who were named in the claims were then named in at least one additional surgical “never event” claim in the future.

“[These events are] associated with serious harm to patients,” the researchers concluded. According to article co-authors Winta Mehtsun, MD, and Andrew Ibrahim, MD, patient and provider characteristics may assist in establishing prevention strategies such as stricter safety checks and surgical “time-outs.”

Experts recommend asking physicians prior to surgery what procedures are in place to ensure such “never events” do not occur during a scheduled surgery.

1 Comments

  • KLreviewJanuary 9, 2013 at 3:07 am

    There is one medical lawsuit against Prof. London Ooi from National Cancer Centre Singapore by a businessman in my country which were reported quite extensively by the media in Malaysia. As your article referring to Hospital Accidents and Mistakes Often Go Unreported, these lawsuits are hardly being reported. If malpractice and misdiagnosis really take place I hope these will not go unnoticed but[Show More]There is one medical lawsuit against Prof. London Ooi from National Cancer Centre Singapore by a businessman in my country which were reported quite extensively by the media in Malaysia. As your article referring to Hospital Accidents and Mistakes Often Go Unreported, these lawsuits are hardly being reported. If malpractice and misdiagnosis really take place I hope these will not go unnoticed but to correct and improve on it.

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