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Too Many Patients Are Injured by Preventable Surgical Mistakes

Updated August 18, 2020 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

Surgeries of all types come with a risk of error. If you are preparing for an upcoming surgery, the last thing you want to worry about is your doctor’s ability to perform the surgery—that should be a given.

Unfortunately, surgical errors happen all the time.

Study of Preventable Surgical Mistakes

Patient safety researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine claim that an estimated 80,000 preventable medical errors were made in hospitals in the United States between 1990 and 2010. Researchers from the school reviewed and analyzed national medical malpractice claims and found the following startling data:

  • Foreign objects are left inside a patient about 39 times per week
  • Wrong surgical procedures are performed on a patient about 20 times per week
  • An incorrect body part is operated on about 20 times per week

The research, led by Dr. Marty Makary, an Associate Professor of Surgery at the medical school, is allegedly the first time the nationwide rate of preventable surgical errors was analyzed. Additionally, Dr. Makary argued that the medical mistake estimates are likely on the low side, as many preventable medical errors are never discovered or are not reported.

Data and Costs

As part of the study, Dr. Makary and his team analyzed medical malpractice claims listed in the federal National Practitioner Data Bank. Researchers then reportedly worked to identify judgments and settlements related to preventable mistakes, such as operating on the wrong body part.

Dr. Makary and his team identified almost 10,000 medical malpractice judgments, totaling about $1.3 billion that resulted from preventable medical errors. Approximately 33 percent of the patients identified suffered a permanent injury, and nearly seven percent died as a result of the alleged hospital mistake. The researchers then extrapolated the data to estimate that more than 4,000 preventable surgical mistakes are made every year across the nation.

Dr. Makary stated the National Practitioner Data Bank was the best resource available for his research because the nature of the data collected suggests that most medical malpractice claims included are legitimate. According to Dr. Makary, the majority of preventable surgical mistakes are fairly easy to prove and generally result in few frivolous lawsuits. In addition, hospitals are legally required to report preventable medical errors like those examined by the researchers to the database.

Next Steps for the Medical Field

Although Dr. Makary admits that some healthcare mistakes will never disappear, he reportedly believes the study demonstrates that more work needs to be done with regard to addressing preventable medical errors. Current patient safety procedures, mandatory operating room timeouts, and written surgical checklists are not enough to ensure preventable surgical errors are avoided. The researchers believe surgical mistakes should be publicly reported in order to provide both surgeons and hospitals with an increased level of accountability.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have been a victim of medical malpractice, you are urged to contact the Indianapolis Medical Malpractice Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you build your case and fight for the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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