Healthcare News & Insights

Hospitals battle high rates of surgical ‘never events’

When it comes to “never events” during surgery, there’s plenty of room for improvement in hospital performance. According to a Johns Hopkins analysis of malpractice claims of hospitals from across the nation, preventable surgical mistakes are happening way too often.

How often? Researchers estimate that over 4,000 of these errors occur every year.

Specific never events occur with surprising frequency, the study states. Surgeons accidentally leave foreign objects inside a patient’s body an estimated 39 times a week. Additionally, surgeons will perform the wrong procedure on a patient 20 times a week, and will operate on the wrong body site an additional 20 times a week.

Even worse: The researchers say their estimates are likely on the low side. Since some surgical mistakes aren’t discovered until a patient experiences complications, thousands more problems may go undetected annually.

And if you think that young or inexperienced surgeons are the root of these problems, think again. The analysis revealed that, out of all the adverse events studied, more than one-third were caused by surgeons between the ages of 40 and 49. Surgeons 60 and older were responsible for just over 14% of recorded never events.

Reducing surgical mistakes

While patient safety concerns such as surgical-site infections can never be 100% eradicated, it’s much easier to control the rate of never events.

Promoting a culture of accountability in your surgical staff will work wonders for reducing surgical errors. Strategies used successfully by other hospitals include:

  • Taking a “time out:” Instituting a mandatory “time out” period before surgery begins can help reduce the likelihood of human error. During this time, surgeons can double check to make sure the medical record and surgical procedure match up with the patient who’s going on the operating table.
  • Marking it up: Using indelible ink to clearly mark the surgical site on a patient’s body before sedation begins is a small step that can make a big difference in preventing surgeons from operating on the wrong body part.
  • Counting equipment: Instead of counting surgical equipment manually, many hospitals are switching to using a system where electronic bar codes are placed on surgical tools and materials so they’re easily tracked. This way, staff can quickly account for the objects both before and after each surgery.

Even if, despite your best efforts, a never event does occur at your hospital, transparency is key. Encouraging staff to be upfront about their mistakes can only help you learn exactly what went wrong and take specific steps toward prevention.

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