Surgical “never events” are serious, preventable medical errors that occur before, during or after surgery and are so egregious that reasonable people agree that they should never happen. These incidents can result in severe consequences for patients, leading to significant harm, disability or even death.
All surgical departments must have protocols in place to help avoid all never events. Patients must be able to count on medical professionals to keep them safe. Unfortunately, these never events sometimes occur.
Common surgical never events
Some (relatively) common surgical never events include:
- Wrong-site surgery: This occurs when a surgeon performs surgery on the wrong body part, such as operating on the left knee instead of the right knee. This can result in unnecessary pain, complications and further surgeries for the patient.
- Wrong-patient surgery: This event happens when a surgical procedure is performed on the wrong patient, often due to misidentification or communication errors among a medical team. This can lead to unnecessary surgery and the potential for complications in the wrong patient, as well as a delay in necessary treatment for the correct patient.
- Wrong-procedure surgery: This involves performing the incorrect surgical procedure on a patient, such as removing the wrong organ or conducting an unnecessary operation. This can lead to serious harm and the need for further surgeries to correct the error.
- Retained surgical items: These incidents occur when surgical instruments, sponges, towels or other materials are accidentally left inside a patient’s body after a surgery is completed. Retained surgical items can cause severe complications, including infection, pain and the need for additional surgery to remove the foreign object.
- Anesthesia errors: These never events involve errors related to the administration of anesthesia, such as incorrect dosages or the use of the wrong anesthetic agent. Anesthesia errors can lead to severe complications, including brain damage, allergic reactions or death.
- Intraoperative nerve injuries: These injuries occur when nerves are accidentally damaged during surgery, potentially leading to temporary or permanent loss of function, pain or paralysis.
To prevent surgical never events, hospitals and surgical teams should implement robust safety protocols and procedures, such as preoperative verification, time-outs before surgery, effective communication among team members and thorough instrument counts.
Patients who suffer harm due to never events need immediate medical care. They will also benefit from exploring their legal options, as they are in a strong position to pursue a claim for compensation as a result of medical negligence.