Surgeons Make Preventable Mistakes 4,000 Times a Year, Study Says

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Despite a significant push to reduce "never events" — surgical errors such as wrong-site surgery, mistaken patient identity and retained surgical items — surgeons make such mistakes more than 4,000 times a year in the United States, according to a Johns Hopkins study published in Surgery and reported by The Wall Street Journal.

According to the study, which used data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, over 9,744 cases of retained surgical items, wrong-site surgery, wrong-patient surgery and wrong-procedure surgery occurred between 1990 and 2010 in the U.S.

In these cases, just over 6 percent of patients lost their lives. Another 32.9 percent suffered permanent injury, and 59.2 percent suffered temporary injury, according to the report.

A prior study indicated that only 12 percent of surgical adverse events result in indemnity payments — meaning only those cases would be listed in the National Practitioner Data Bank. This means that up to 4,082 mistakes could occur in the U.S. every year, with 78 percent of those cases going unreported.

Hospitals are required to report events that result in a settlement or mention in the National Practitioner Data Bank. According to Martin Makary, lead author of the study and associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, these types of surgical errors are entirely preventable.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities have been working for years to implement safety programs to prevent adverse events. Such programs include surgical checklists, as touted by the World Health Organization and surgeon-author Atul Gawande, MD, and "timeouts" before surgery to ensure nothing is amiss.

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