Schmidt, Sethi & Akmajian Blog

Thousands of Surgical Errors Every Year

Posted by Dev Sethi | Apr 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

Sadly, surgical errors happen every day and way more often than most of us would ever imagine. But the fact is that there are over 4,000 mistakes made by surgeons in the United States every year according to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. There is a federal repository (the National Practitioner Data Band) that holds medical-malpractice judgments and settlements reached out of court which inculdes cases where objects have been left inside a patient, wrong-site surgeries, wrong-patient surgeries and wrong procedures. There were an alarming 9,744 cases that were identified between 1990 and 2010. The research shows that 59.2% of these patients suffered temporary injury, 32.9% had permanent injury and 6% died. The number of mistakes is very conservative because hospitals do not have to name individual doctors on settlements in some instances so then it is not reported to the practitioner database.

It is also very likely that the estimates are low because many patients do not file a report after they have experienced a surgical error so a lot of the objects left inside patients are not even discovered. The only time an item left behind is found and reported is when a patient has a complication after the surgery and returns to see the doctor. The complication is usually an infection. Only when doctors attempt to discover the reason for the complication do they discover things like sponges left behind. Martin Makary who is a lead study associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins reported this documentation saying that these types of complications are surgical mistakes that are "totally preventable." Hospitals are required by law to report incidents to the data base on any result that ended with a settlement or judgment.

Most hospitals have been trying for years to develop safety programs to help in reducing the amount of mistakes made. The hospitals call it a "time out" where they make sure they have the correct patient before surgery and have the right body part by using indelible ink to mark the correct area for surgery before the patient receives anesthesia. There is a new technology which consists of a wand like scanner which can be waved over a patient allowing the surgical teams to account for all sponges and other items used in the procedure. Unfortunately not all hospitals have this technology and even if they do, mistakes are still made.

Because there are over 53 million surgeries conducted annually in the U.S. it is of great concern that the only known number of mistakes comes from malpractice claims and reports to the database. There is a financial penalty from The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services levied against hospitals responsible for these preventable events. However, the penalty is relatively innocuous-Medicare and Medicate simply withhold payments for repeat surgeries scheduled to fix mistakes or for the treatment of preventable infections. Critics suggest that a much more effective deterrent would be to impose a large fine on the hospital for wrong-site surgery or for a repeat incident.

There hasbeen over $1.3 billion in malpractice payments that have been made between 1990-2010 according to the database with 9,744 malpractice payments related to surgical mistakes; 49.8% were from a foreign object left behind, 25.1% from the wrong procedure, 24.8% the wrong site and 0.3% the wrong patient.

Kinerk, Schmidt & Sethi PLLC, think that these are quite alarming numbers and encourage hospitals and medical personnel to to continue their efforts to find new and better patient safety precautions.

About the Author

Dev Sethi

Dev Sethi litigates and tries a wide-range of complex injury and death cases throughout Arizona. He has Martindale Hubbell's highest rating, AV, and he is listed in "Best Lawyers." Dev is also recognized as an Arizona Super Lawyer in the area of plaintiff's products liability litigation.Dev has been at the forefront of auto product defect litigation. He played a key role in uncovering the Goodyear Load Range E tire scandal and worked to hold Ford Motor Company responsible for the danger posed by their now notorious 15-passenger vans. Dev is currently representing families in product liability suits against the nation's largest corporations including General Motors, Ford, Pentair Pools and Invacare.


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