Surgical 'Never' Events Happen Nevertheless

Scientific American

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Surgeons call them "never events,” because they are supposed to never happen: things like leaving a piece of equipment in someone or removing the wrong body part. But despite major efforts to reduce medical errors, these “never events” still occur more than 4,000 times each year in the U.S. That finding is in the journal Surgery. [Winta Mehtsun et al, Surgical Never Events In the United States]

Researchers sifted through thousands of malpractice claims. They found surgeons leave a foreign object inside at least 39 patients each week. And wrong procedures or incorrect site surgeries each occur 20 or more times per week.

Such incidents are obviously preventable. Checklists and equipment counts are supposed to take place in the operating room. Even if you're comatose when going under the knife, you can have a conversation with your doctor beforehand to make sure everyone knows what operation is scheduled. And feel free to ask for a permanent marker drawing on your body. So that the surgeon is greeted with an inked note that says something clear, such as, “TAKE OUT THIS KIDNEY.”

—Katherine Harmon

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast]

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