-- Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Dec. 21 (HealthDay News) -- At least 4,000 surgical
errors called "never events" occur in the United States each year,
according to a new study.
Never events are mistakes that should never happen during
surgery, such as leaving objects inside patients, performing the
wrong procedure and operating on the wrong side of the body, the
Johns Hopkins researchers explained.
They analyzed national data and estimated that 80,000 never
events occurred in U.S. hospitals between 1990 and 2010, and
believe that figure may be on the low side.
They also estimated that U.S. surgeons leave a foreign object
such as a sponge or a towel inside a patient's body after an
operation 39 times a week, perform the wrong procedure on a patient
20 times a week, and operate on the wrong part of the body 20 times
Never events were most common among patients aged 40 to 49.
Interestingly, surgeons in the same age group were responsible for
more than one-third of never events, compared with about 14 percent
for surgeons older than 60, according to the study published online
in the journal
Documenting the scope of the problem is an important step in
developing ways to prevent never events, the researchers said.
"There are mistakes in health care that are not preventable. Infection rates will likely never get down to zero, even if everyone does everything right, for example," study leader Dr. Marty Makary, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a Hopkins news release.
"But the events we've estimated are totally preventable. This study highlights that we are nowhere near where we should be and there's a lot of work to be done," he noted.
Many hospitals have long had safety procedures to prevent never
events, such as "timeouts" in the operating room before surgery to
make sure that medical records and surgical plans match the patient
on the table, Makary said.
Other measures include using indelible ink to mark the surgical
site before the patient goes under anesthesia, and counting
sponges, towels and other surgical items before and after
But these precautions are not foolproof, according to
Many hospitals are beginning to use electronic bar codes on
surgical instruments and materials to ensure precise counts and
prevent human error, the release noted.
The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers tips
on how to
make sure your surgery is safe.
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