Entries in Medical Malpractice (3)


Surgeons Still Make Preventable Mistakes

Image Courtesy The Turkewitz Law Firm(NEW YORK) -- There are certain mistakes that should never happen to you during surgery.  The surgeon should never accidentally leave a sponge in your body after he sews you up, perform surgery on the wrong part of your body, or perform the entirely wrong surgery on you.

These mistakes are known as “never events” because the medical community has agreed there is no legitimate reason for their ever happening.  But new research finds that they still do occur at unacceptable rates, costing the healthcare system millions of dollars each year.

Using the National Practitioner Data Bank, an electronic warehouse of medical malpractice claims, researchers at John Hopkins University estimated the number of times that “never events” occurred within the past 20 years.  They found that there were close to 10,000 reported instances when a foreign object was left in a patient, the wrong surgery was performed, or the surgery was performed on the wrong patient or wrong part of the body.  These surgeries cost the healthcare industry an estimated $1.3 billion in malpractice payments over that same time period.

“It’s a rare event but it’s still an event that is entirely preventable,” said Dr. Martin Makary, the lead investigator of the study published this week in the journal Surgery.

He and his team believe these figures underestimate the actual number of errors that occur, since prior studies have shown that most patients don’t file medical claims when a mistake is made.  Although the annual number of reported “never events” is on the decline, Makary and his team believe that even a single preventable error is one too many.

“There have been a lot of efforts over the past several years to make significant changes in patient care,” said Dr. Sonali Desai, ambulatory medical director for patient safety at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.  She lists the creation of surgical safety checklists, improvements in communication and team training, and the development of better technology as key steps in ensuring that patients are safer.

“Surgeons are the captain of the ship, but it’s a team effort,” said Dr. Jeffrey Port, a cardiothoracic surgeon at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell who invented a product that uses radio-frequency technology to confirm that a patient’s body is 100 percent sponge-free.

Mandatory safety procedures prior to the start of surgery were a nuisance at first, but over time proved valuable at ensuring patient safety, according to Port.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see zero [errors], but we can get very close,” he said.

The study is not without its limitations, according to Dr. Desai, who points out that evaluating claims data through the National Practitioner Data Bank is only the tip of the iceberg.  Hospital-based safety reporting systems keep track of not only medical malpractice claims, but also those medical errors that never make it into the legal system.  This individualized hospital data may be more comprehensive, but it is also more difficult to aggregate and analyze on a national scale.

Makary acknowledges that the data sets are not perfect, and can only provide a rough estimate of the amount of preventable medical errors made every year, but the study serves to highlight the need for more accurate record keeping.

“Healthcare is operated by good people, but they’re still human,” he said.  “The better able we are to remove errors from the system, the safer healthcare can be for everybody.”

Check out your hospital’s error rate at

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Patients as Likely to See Medical Error in Dr.'s Office as in Hospitals

Comstock/Thinkstock(EDUCATION CITY, Qatar) -- A study published in the June 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association says the chances of experiencing injury due to medical error are the same in a doctor's office as in a hospital.

Researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College compared medical malpractice claims both from doctor's offices and hospitals using the U.S. National Practicioner Data Bank.  They found that the 11,000 total malpractice payments paid by physicians in 2009 was nearly split between hospitals and private practices.

According to the report, doctor's offices tended to produce more errors related to incorrect diagnoses, whereas failed surgical procedures caused the most issues for hospitals.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Third of MRI, X-Ray Tests 'Wasteful' Spending

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PHILADELPHIA) - A new study suggests that if your doctor orders you to take an MRI or X-ray, they may simply be protecting themselves from being sued, reports WebMD.

A new survey by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found that among Pennsylvania orthopaedists, one in five order such imaging tests to avoid a potential lawsuit, not to help in a diagnosis.

According to researcher John Flynn, associate chief of orthopaedic surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the study offers "a glimpse behind the curtain of what's happening in your doctor's mind."

Flynn and colleagues found that the so-called "defensive tests" made up 35 percent of total test costs, or as much as $325,000 among the 640 orthopaedists surveyed.

Flynn said the spending is wasteful and contributes to the estimated one-third of national health care spending considered unnecessary.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio