Surgical Never Events Costly, Cause Considerable Harm

Payment increases based on severity of harm to patient, for docs with multiple malpractice reports

FRIDAY, Dec. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Surgical never events, including retained foreign bodies and wrong-site, wrong-patient, and wrong-procedure surgeries, are costly and incur considerable harm to patients, according to research published online Dec. 18 in Surgery.

Winta T. Mehtsun, M.D., M.P.H., from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues used the National Practitioner Data Bank to identify malpractice settlements and judgments of surgical never events. The number and magnitude of paid malpractice claims and associated patient and provider characteristics were assessed.

Between 1990 and 2010, the researchers identified 9,744 paid malpractice settlements and judgments, for which the malpractice payments totaled $1.3 billion. A total of 6.6 percent of patients died, 32.9 percent experienced permanent injury, and 59.2 percent experienced temporary injury. Based on the literature, in the United States, the researchers estimated that 4,082 surgical never event claims occur each year. Increased payments correlated with the severity of patient outcome and with multiple malpractice reports for physicians. A total of 12.4 percent of those physicians named in a surgical never event claim were subsequently named in at least one additional claim.

"Despite our advances in the delivery of health care, surgical never events continue to occur, with serious implications for patients, providers, and health care costs," the authors write. "Strategies used in other complex systems such as aviation may help provide a blueprint to examine both the individual and the institutional factors that contribute to these preventable and costly events."

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