Surgery is always risky. A person undergoing an operation always faces a range of potential complications that can result in serious injury or death. Doctors are generally supposed to warn their patients about these risks to obtain their informed consent prior to any proposed operation. And in the end, patients often decide that the benefits of surgery far outweigh any risks.
Some surgical risks are worse than others, and the worst are what have come to be known as “never events.” That phrase refers to medical errors that are so serious that they should never happen. They are avoidable complications with serious consequences for a person’s health—including serious disability or death.
Unfortunately, never events are all too common in U.S. medical facilities. Patients and their health-care providers should understand what never events are, what is being done to protect against them, and what legal rights patients have following a never event.
Article at a Glance
- Surgical never events are medical errors that are so egregious, they should never happen, like leaving surgical tools behind or operating on the wrong body part.
- According to research reported in 2012, never events occur more than 4,000 times a year in the United States.
- Never events are examples of medical malpractice, and Ohio law entitles you and your loved ones to compensation for injuries arising out of a never event.
What are Never Events?
The term “never event” was first introduced in 2001 by a former CEO of the National Quality Forum (NQF) to refer to the types of medical errors that are so egregious, they should never occur. In 2002 the NQF defined 27 events (which has now grown to 29 events) that qualify as never events, including:
- Performing surgery on the wrong patient;
- Performing surgery on the wrong body part;
- Performing the wrong kind of surgery on a patient;
- Leaving a foreign object in a patient after surgery;
- Death of an otherwise-healthy patient during or after surgery;
- Death or serious disability caused by defective medical devices or contaminated drugs; and
- Death or serious disability caused by burns or electrocution.
When never events occur, they are devastating to patients—71% of events reported to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations between 2000 and 2012 were fatal—and may indicate a fundamental safety problem within medical organizations.
How Common are Never Events?
In 2012, the Washington Post and other major news sources reported that between September 1990 and September 2010, care providers paid medical malpractice claims for nearly 10,000 never events.
About half of those cases were ones where surgeons left objects inside of patients. Another quarter involved performing the wrong surgical procedure, and in just under a quarter, doctors operated on the wrong body part. 17 cases involved surgery on the wrong patient entirely.
However, the research referenced in that article, originally published in the journal Surgery, indicates that this data is limited, because it only includes the number of malpractice claims that resulted in a judgment or reported settlement. The researchers estimate that the actual number of never events in the United States totals more than 4,000 per year.
What is Being Done to Protect Patients from Never Events?
Because never events are devastasing and preventable, healthcare organizations are under increasing pressure to eliminate them completely. In fact, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in August 2007 that Medicare would no longer pay for additional costs associated with many preventable errors, including those considered never events.
In 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a Surgical Safety Checklist as part of its Safe Surgery Saves Lives initiative, which was designed to help reduce surgical deaths around the world. WHO hopes to accomplish that goal by educating (or reminding) health-care professionals about the steps they can take to ensure surgery is as safe as possible.
Unfortunately, despite the continued research and spotlight shown on this failure of the medical system, these errors still continue at an alarming rate. As such, when injuries occur due to medical error, patients and their family members are devastated by the outcomes, and their lives are turned upside down and—very often destroyed—by the permanency of their injuries and the costs of recovery.
Your Rights After a Never Event
Never events are examples of medical malpractice, which occurs when a doctor or other health-care provider fails to abide by the standard of care required by the law. Ohio law entitles any person injured by medical malpractice (and, in some cases, his or her family members) to seek compensation for his or her injuries through the court system.
In addition, the State Medical Board (SMB) may pursue a doctor discipline proceeding against a doctor or other professional as the result of a never event. The SMB—which licenses doctors, nurses, and others—has authority to impose substantial punishments on those professionals for failing to conform to minimal standards of care.
If you believe or suspect that you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice in Ohio—whether it rises to the level of a never event or not—you should contact the experienced personal injury attorneys of Plevin & Galluci for help protecting your rights. We have been representing victims of medical negligence and never events in Ohio for more than 30 years. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact us today.