By Brett Spiegel
You may have heard horror stories about medical instruments being left inside the body post-surgery. These accounts -- referred to by doctors and surgeons as "never events" -- may not be urban legend, but rather, real and ever-growing.
According to a new study published in the journal Surgery, over 4,000 cases of never events occurred annually between 1990-2010.
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The researchers, said study leader Marty Makary, MD, MPH, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, estimated that 80,000 of these so-called "never events" occurred in American hospitals -- and believed their approximations are likely on the low side.
The team examined medical malpractice claims -- all patient triumphant lawsuits -- to assess the effect of never events on physicians, patients, and the healthcare system.
"I think if all of that information is public, patients will not have to walk into a hospital blind," Dr. Makary told The Atlantic. "They'll know about the quality of care in their hospital, and the hospital, most importantly, will be accountable."
The study concluded that of the total yearly count of never events, 6.6 percent resulted in patient death and were mistake related, about 33 percent resulted in permanent injury, and roughly 60 percent caused temporary injury. Reparations amounted to $1.3 billion.
The estimated 4,000 yearly occurrences broke down to a weekly count of more than 30 foreign objects lingering in patients and 20 medical procedures conducted on incorrect areas of the body. That's on top of another 20 cases in which the incorrect procedure was performed. Moreover, this occurred more than once among 12.4 percent of medical practitioners.
Certain protocol has been implemented to combat the rising frequency of never events in medical facilities including marking surgery sites with ink, enforcing checklists and electronic bar codes, and counting surgical items pre and post operation. Though precision can be fallible, these efforts hope to minimize human error.
But more regulation is needed, doctors say.
"We all know the health care system is broken, burdening our families, businesses, and national debt. It needs common-sense reform," Dr. Makary wrote in his book Unaccountable. "Transparency can empower their consumers to make their hospitals accountable and make the practice of medicine more honest."
"Surgeons Leave Swabs, Instruments in Patients" originally appeared on Everyday Health.
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