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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported on a recent study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, to determine how often “never events” occur in American hospitals. The medical errors known as “never events” are the worst possible kind of mistakes, the kind which should (theoretically) never happen. The study focused on cases of foreign objects (such as sponges or surgical tools) being left inside a patient’s body, surgeries performed on the wrong limb or organ, and surgeries which were performed on the wrong patient altogether. It turns out these “never events” happened an average of over 4,000 times each year in American hospitals.
Perhaps the most disturbing piece of information was the statement of Martin Makery, a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins who led the study. He stated that the number was a very conservative estimate, and that perhaps thousands more “never events” happen each year that were not reflected in the data the researchers had available. They used data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is a storehouse of information related to medical malpractice judgments and out of court settlements. Since many people who fall victim to these horrible medical errors never hire an attorney or seek to make any legal claims, those “never events” are not reflected in the Johns Hopkins Study.