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News Americas

Surgical errors are human but some could be prevented by employing procedures and simple tools. (Photo: aslysun/Shutterstock)
Jan 30, 2013 | News Americas

US surgeons might make 4,000 mistakes every year

by Surgical Tribune

BALTIMORE, Md., USA: Surgeons in the U.S. committed approximately 80,000 preventable errors between 1990 and 2010, researchers have found. This is equivalent to 4,000 mistakes annually. The unreported number could be even higher.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine examined national medical malpractice claims from the last 20 years. The data indicates that surgeons in the U.S. committed approximately 80,000 preventable errors during the period in question. Although that number may seem high, the researchers note that their estimate is a conservative one and that the incidence of preventable errors — also known as "never events" — is likely much higher than records indicate.

For the study, the researchers used data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, a repository of federal medical malpractice claims. They focused on judgments and out-of-court settlements related to cases involving retained foreign bodies (i.e., cases where a sponge or other object was left inside a patient), wrong-site surgeries (i.e., a surgeon operated on the incorrect body part), wrong-patient surgeries (i.e., a surgeon operated on the wrong patient) and incorrect procedures (i.e., a surgeon performed the wrong procedure on a patient).

Over the 20 years studied, the researchers found 9,744 medical malpractice judgments and claims, with payments totaling $1.3 billion. About 6.6 percent of the patients concerned died, 32.9 percent suffered permanent injury, and 59.2 percent suffered temporary injury as a result of the mistakes.

The researchers suggest that these sorts of surgical errors could be prevented by employing procedures and simple tools such as checklists to ensure that doctors perform the right procedures on the right patients and keep track of all instruments used during surgery. In addition, the researchers suggest that improved reporting systems could play an important role in improving safety efforts.

The study, titled "Surgical never events in the United States," was published online in the December 2012 issue of the Surgery journal ahead of print.

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