Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed by treatment that is below a certain accepted standard of care. Legal disputes in this area understandably deal with defining exactly what that standard is and determining if a medical professional breached it in any given case. However, there are some situations where mistakes are so obviously made that there is little dispute at all. In the patient safety community these medical errors are often referred to as “Never Events.” That is because they represent problems that are simply inexcusable and should never, under any circumstances, occur in a medical setting.
These never events include things like operating on the wrong patient, performing the wrong operation, or leaving something inside a patient’s body after surgery. In most medical malpractice cases an expert witness is needed to explain how a certain course of conduct or medical action might have violated standards. However, when a never event strikes, sometimes medical experts are not needed at all. That is because even non-experts understand that these errors are egregious breaches of accepted caregiving principles.
Not So Rare After All
Local residents might reasonably assume that these types of mistakes are incredibly rare and do not frequently occur in Maryland or throughout the country. Think again.
Last month a new report was released which generated significant headlines and has led many patients to question the risks to which they are exposed every time that they enter a hospital or medical institution. Researchers from Johns Hopkins recently had a study published in the journal Surgery, which found that thousands of these never events occur in Maryland and elsewhere each and every year. A press release explaining the findings can be read in full here.
The scope of the problem is broken down well by those involved in the study. They explained that “A surgeon in the United States leaves a foreign object such as a sponge or a towel inside a patient’s body after an operation 39 times a week, performs the wrong procedure on a patient 20 times a week and operates on the wrong body site 20 times a week.”
All told this comes out to about 40,000 never events in the last decade alone. Even then, researchers believe the estimates are on the conservative side. That is because sometimes these errors are never discovered. If an object is left inside the body, the patient is unlikely to know it right away; sometimes problems do not develop for years down the road.
Hospitals are required by law to report these events, but it has long-been known that reporting is lax at many facilities. Unless they are forced to admit their error by patients, many facilities do not say a word about problems.
Surgical Errors in Maryland
No matter which way you slice it, it is unacceptable for any medical professional to harm a patient as a result of these entirely preventable surgical errors. One of the key ways to spur change to prevent future mistakes is to demand full accountability. For help ensuring that responsibility, contact Brassel Alexander & Rice, LLC. We offer experienced legal guidance for those throughout Maryland the District of Columbia.