Published On: 12.21.2012 Charlotte, NC

New Study Shows Surgeons Make More Than 4,000 Errors Per Year

On behalf of Charles G. Monnett III & Associates


According to a new study by researchers at John Hopkins, US surgeons make more than 4,000 avoidable errors per year. These errors have been termed “never events” because they are the kind of mistakes that never should happen in medicine. This definition includes such events as leaving an object in the body of a patient or operating on the body part.

The authors of the study note that surgical never events are being used more and more frequently as quality metrics in U.S. healthcare. However, while these events are being used at an increasing rate, little is known about their costs to the healthcare system, patient outcomes, or the characteristics of the providers involved. To remedy this situation, they designed a study to explore the frequency and magnitude of paid medical malpractice claims for surgical never events, as well as associated patient and provider characteristics.

Hospitals are required to report events that result in a settlement or judgment. The researchers used this data from the National Practitioner Data Bank and identified malpractice settlements and judgments of surgical never events, including retained foreign bodies, wrong-site operations, wrong-patient, and wrong-procedure surgery. Payment amounts, patient outcomes, and provider characteristics were assessed to analyze the impact of these never events.

A total of 9,744 paid malpractice settlement and judgments for surgical never events occurring between 1990 and 2010 were discovered. Malpractice payments for surgical never events totaled $1.3 billion. Mortality occurred in 6.6% of patients, permanent injury in 32.9%, and temporary injury in 59.2%. The researchers estimated that 4,082 surgical never event claims occur each year in the United States.

Here is a breakdown of never events:

– Foreign object left behind: 49.8%

– Wrong procedure: 25.1%

– Wrong site 24.8%

– Wrong patient 0.3%

Higher payments were associated with severe patient outcomes and claims involving a physician with multiple malpractice reports. The mean payment was$133,055. Wrong procedures were the most costly never events, with a median payment of $106,777. The lowest payments were for foreign objects left behind, with a median payment of$33,953. Of physicians named in a surgical never event claim, 12.4% were later named in at least one future surgical never event claim.

The researchers from the study concluded that surgical never events are costly to the healthcare system and are associated with serious harm to patients. Although hospitals have been working for years on different safety programs and new technologies to reduce never events, the events continue to occur at an alarming frequency. The researchers noted that patient and provider characteristics may help to guide new more effective prevention strategies.