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The frequency, causes and outcomes of surgical errors

When people have to undergo surgery, they may have concerns about the possibility of surgical errors. Mistakes that doctors make during surgery can result in serious injury to the patient, and in some severe cases, even death. This can be very worrisome for those who are anticipating an operation.

Generally speaking, surgical errors are relatively rare. However, even once is too often.

What surgical errors are

Surgical errors, which are also called "never events" because they should never occur, are mistakes that health care professionals make during a surgery. The most common types of surgical errors include leaving foreign objects in the patient's body, nerve damage as a result of incorrectly positioning the patient, mistakes made with anesthesia, and mistakes made in terms of operating on the wrong side or the wrong site on a patient's body.

How often they occur

The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare reported that 40 wrong-side, wrong-patient and wrong-procedure errors occur each week. These particular surgical errors are in the top two most reported incidents to the Commission. In addition, one study estimated that surgeons commit never-event errors during surgery more than 4,000 times each year in the United States.

Why they occur

While many people may believe the mistakes occur solely at the hands of a surgeon, in truth, there are many different root causes that can lead to a mistake. Staff may rush because of a tight schedule, those involved in the procedure may not receive adequate briefing or the prep team may inadvertently remove the markings on the site while preparing the patient for the procedure. These types of issues and others indicate a problem with the underlying system rather than a single person.

When they lead to medical malpractice suits

To win any medical malpractice lawsuit, someone must prove that the health care professional(s) involved had a duty of care to the patient, he or she (or they) breached that duty, and as a direct result, the patient suffered harm. When these elements are present, a judge or jury is likely to award compensation to the victim or, in the case of wrongful death, his or her family members.

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