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Hospital errors: "never events" occur far too often

On its face, the problem sounds like some sort of paradox or mind-twister. How could occurrences that authorities have given the term "never events" happen so often?

Yet that is just what happens in the case of serious but entirely preventable medical errors. According to a new research study, over 4,000 of these hospital errors occur every year. The errors include such egregious medical mistakes as operating on the wrong patient or the wrong body part.

The study was done by researchers from Johns Hopkins University. They examined data from medical malpractice settlements and judgments for surgical errors over a twenty period, from 1990 to 2010.

The high number of "never events" identified in the study is bad enough. But the researchers also concluded that these events have been significantly undercounted for many years. That conclusion makes the numbers even more grounds for concern.

So how do healthcare regulators define a "never event?" When it was first introduced a decade ago, it referred to medical mistakes that were especially shocking. In recent years, the definition has been broadened to include serious measurable events that cause death or disability and are normally preventable.

The National Quality Forum has developed six categories of "never events," one of which is surgical. Wrong-site surgery is one of the most frequently reported of these events. Performing the wrong procedure is also a common mistake, and so are medication errors.

It should also be noted that "never events" can result in refusal by Medicare and other insurers to reimburse medical providers for those procedures.

Source: The Atlantic, "4,082 Totally Preventable Medical Disasters Occur Each Year," J.K. Trotter, Dec. 20, 2012

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Albany medical malpractice page.

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