Doctors make mistakes every day, just as other working professionals do. Physician errors are often due to biases and misinformation, Becker’s Hospital Review reports. While these could cause delayed treatment, wrong treatment or other potentially harmful actions, they may not qualify as medical malpractice. 

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the same is not usually true for major surgical mistakes. 

Surgical never events

“Never event” is a term that medical professionals use to indicate a serious mistake that is preventable and should never happen. For surgeons, never events include: 

  • Operating on the wrong side of the body 
  • Performing the wrong procedure 
  • Performing the procedure on the wrong patient 

Rate of surgical errors

One study revealed that operating room never events occur at a rate of about 1 in 112,000 procedures. Patients may find that comforting, as it means that any given hospital would be unlikely to have more than one significant surgical error every five to 10 years. 

However, the study did not include procedures that took place outside of the operating arena. A study of the data from Veterans Affairs revealed that only half of the surgical never events happened in the operating room. 

Reason for surgical errors

Why do these devastating mistakes happen? Most often, the answer is communication issues. Incorrect or unclear site marking creates considerable confusion, as well, even though The Joint Commission has published standards that should prevent marking errors and other mistakes. However, the AHRQ notes that in spite of the standards and protocols in place, the errors continue. 

Because the errors are so egregious, and the damages are frequently life-changing, surgical never events often result in a medical malpractice case.