This Is Why Horrific Surgical Mistakes Still Happen In The U.S.

By: Laura Geggel
Published: June 11, 2015 04:41pm ET on LiveScience.

Major errors during surgery are rare, but preventable mistakes still happen in hospitals throughout the United States, a new review finds.

In about 1 in 100,000 surgeries, doctors make a “wrong site” error — for example, they operate on the wrong side of a person’s body, or sometimes even on the wrong person, the study found. And in 1 out of every 10,000 procedures, doctors leave something (such as a medical sponge) in the patient’s body, the researchers found.

Poor communication among medical staff is the root cause of many of these mistakes, the researchers said in their article, published online Wednesday (June 10) in the journal JAMA Surgery.

But it’s still unclear how to prevent these errors — which experts call “never events” because they should never happen — largely because there isn’t much data on them. [Social Surgery: A Gallery of Live-Tweeted Operations]

“Never events are, fortunately, very rare,” said the study’s lead researcher, Susanne Hempel, co-director of the Evidence-based Practice Center at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank headquartered in California. But that makes it difficult to collect enough data on these events and how to prevent them, she said.

Hempel and her colleagues conducted the review for the U.S. Veterans Affairs National Center for Patient Safety, “to evaluate the state of the evidence 10 years after the introduction of the Universal Protocol, a concerted effort to improve surgical safety,” she told Live Science in an email.

In the review, the researchers looked at 138 studies, published from 2004 to 2014, that reported on at least one of three types of never events: wrong-site surgery, leaving an item behind in a person during surgery, and surgical fires.

They found that the frequency of these events varied —> Read More