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Surgical errors: Shocking data in new study of 'never events'

They're called "never events": surgical errors that are completely preventable and should never happen. But these surgical errors do happen, and they happen at an alarming rate, according to a recent study.

Montanans may be shocked to hear that in a single week in the United States, surgeons carry out the wrong procedure 20 times; some foreign object like a towel or a sponge is left inside someone's body 39 times; and operations occur on the wrong part of the body 20 times.

The study, which appeared in the publication Surgery, analyzed medical malpractice claims from 1990 to 2010. "Never events" such as the ones described here happened a startling 80,000 times in U.S. hospitals.

The leader of the study is Marty Makary, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. As he put it, "The study highlights that we are nowhere near where we should be, and there's a lot of work to be done."

The study indicates that about 4,044 never events occur annually in the United States. That number may seem relatively small if we consider the vast population of the country. But to put the current situation in perspective, all we have to do is consider the pain and suffering of each and every patient who endures the effects of a single never event. The way we name such an event says enough: it should never happen.

In fact, Makary says the estimates offered in the study are probably low, since sometimes foreign objects left in a person's body during surgery are never even discovered.

Montana residents who believe they have been injured because of a surgical error should know that there are legal remedies available. These kinds of errors can hinder a person's happiness for years, and it's only fair that financial injuries resulting from such an event are covered by those whose negligence caused the injury in the first place.

Source: Futurity, "Surgery 'never events' happen every week in US," Stephanie Desmon, Dec. 20, 2012

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