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Medical never events: Why do they happen?

Any time you undergo a medical procedure, there’s an inherent risk involved. You might schedule a visit with your primary care physician if you develop symptoms of illness. Someone in your household might need surgery. An emergency situation could land you in the back of an ambulance to be transport to the nearest trauma unit. In any medical situation, you can expect all licensed caregivers to provide quality care. State law defines “quality” in the medical industry. Stringent regulations and protocol, as well as accepted standards of safety, help prevent patient injuries. In a perfect world, medical negligence wouldn’t exist. In reality, the term “never events” refers to incidents that cause a patient illness, infection or injury because of substandard care.

We call these dreadful incidents “never events” because they should never happen. It’s as simple as that. There’s no excuse for medical negligence. If you have to be put under anesthesia to have an operation, you must be able to trust the medical team in the operating room. You’ll be unconscious; therefore, you can’t monitor anything or be proactive in your own care. Even if you could, it’s not your responsibility to make sure licensed staff members do their jobs right. You should never wind up in worse condition because of medical negligence.

What are the most common types of never events?

In a moment, you’ll read a list showing the most common types of never events that occur throughout the country. First, let’s remember that there are many good medical professionals in the United States. In fact, our country has some of the most brilliant physicians, surgeons and nurses in the world. The problem is that it only takes one licensed caregiver to act with negligence to cause injuries to patients and, perhaps, place their lives at risk. The following list shows never events that continue to happen in medical facilities in most, if not all 50 states:

  • Operating on the wrong part of a body
  • Performing the wrong procedure
  • Leaving a foreign object inside of a patient’s body
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Medication errors

One can only imagine the horror of receiving anesthesia to have a specific type of surgery, only to awaken to learn that the surgeon did the wrong operation! It’s equally unthinkable to consider being admitted for a procedure, such as a knee replacement, then discovering that the surgeon operated on the wrong knee. These types of errors should never happen in the most medically-advanced country in the world, or anywhere else, for that matter!

The system is designed to prevent never events

Your surgeon isn’t the only one in the operating room who is responsible for your safety. There’s an entire team of people and a system of checks and balances that help caregivers avoid errors. Every surgical tool and item is labeled, numbered and accounted for. If a surgeon leaves a surgical sponge or other instrument inside your body, you could get a dangerous infection. You might not even be aware there’s a problem until symptoms of infection develop later on. Several people in an operating room are tasked with counting each and every item a surgeon uses during an operation. They are responsible for recounting all of those things before the surgeon closes your wound. This is done for the specific purpose of preventing foreign objects from being left inside of you.

As for medication, the five Rs are part of most hospitals’ accepted safety standards to help prevent error. A nurse or doctor administering medication to you is responsible for your safety. He or she should confirm that you’re the right patient and that the medicine being given is the right drug. It’s also imperative to make certain the right route (intravenously, orally, topically) is occurring, and in the right dose. Finally, timing matters with many drugs. A nurse or doctor should confirm that it’s the right time for you to receive medication before administering it.

What causes these horrific incidents?

As stated earlier, there is no excuse for never events. Giving a reason, however, is different than making excuses. Studies show that several issues increase the risk for medical negligence. Such issues include being under-staffed. That issue often sparks another problem, which is overwork and fatigue. Think of how difficult it becomes for you to focus or make decisions when you’re overly tired. There often aren’t enough workers to cover all shifts. This usually means the same few people are working multiple shifts without sufficient rest in between. Chronic fatigue often leads to carelessness, and the patients are the ones who suffer because of it.

Sadly, there is a substance abuse problem in the medical industry, as well. Many nurses and doctors are carrying out their duties on the job while acting under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is a recipe for disaster.

Always be as proactive as possible in your own health care

There’s nothing you can do about negligence that occurs while you’re unconscious. However, you might be able to prevent a tragedy when you’re awake. Always pay close attention to details a doctor provides when prescribing medication. If you think a nurse is about to administer the wrong drug or the wrong does, etc., speak up. It’s also a good idea to ask a surgeon how many times he or she has performed the procedure you’ll be having, as well as how many injuries have occurred.

You can also run a background check on line.  Check whether there have been any patient complaints or disciplinary actions taken against your doctor or surgeon. If you or your family member become ill or suffer injury or infection because of medical negligence, you can seek restitution in court. You can also report the incident to your state’s medical board, which holds medical professionals accountable by suspending or revoking their license, if evidence proves negligence or misconduct.

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