Impact of Medical "Never" Events and the Legal Rights of Victims

Impact of Medical "Never" Events and the Legal Rights of Victims

Richard N. "Rick" Shapiro

Richard N. "Rick" Shapiro

February 20, 2023 03:29 PM

When it comes to the practice of medicine, perfection is an impossibility. There are instances when processes fail and humans will, invariably, make mistakes at times. Nevertheless, there are specific types of errors so shocking and egregious that they should never happen to a patient under any circumstance by a licensed medical professional.

These egregious errors and oversights are known as medical “never events” and, unfortunately, are a more common occurrence than many people realize.

When it comes to surgical operations and other medical procedures, there are some actions and lapses in judgment deemed wholly unacceptable. These are called “never events.”

What Exactly is a Medical “Never Event”?

The National Quality Forum released a list of 29 “never events” that the organization defined as “serious reportable events” that are extremely rare and should never happen to a patient while they are under the care of trained medical professionals. Here are just a few examples of medical never events:

  • Leaving a surgical needle, sponge, or other foreign object in a patient’s body after a surgical procedure is complete

  • Performing a procedure on the wrong body part

  • Performing a procedure on the wrong patient

  • Discharging an infant to the wrong person

Disturbing Regularity of Medical Never Events

The exact number of “never events” is not currently known, but there are general estimates based on aggregated data from hospitals across the United States. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) conducted an analysis and determined that the occurrence of medical never events often results in unnecessary deaths and additional costs to the overall U.S. healthcare system. CMS reported that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported that an estimated 98,000 deaths each year were attributable to preventable medical errors, and recommended that error-related deaths be decreased by 50 percent over five years.

CMS highlighted another study that concluded that “never events” add significantly to Medicare hospital payments, ranging from an average of an additional $700 per case to treat decubitus ulcers to $9,000 per case to treat postoperative sepsis. Another study, reviewing 18 types of medical events, concluded that medical errors may account for 2.4 million extra hospital days, $9.3 billion in excess charges (for all payers), and 32,600 deaths.

Impact of Medical Never Events on Patients

Medical never events can have significant, life-altering consequences for patients. In fact, more than six percent of patients who are forced to endure a never event die. If that was not bad enough, approximately one-third of never-event victims suffer a permanent injury and 59 percent suffer a temporary injury, according to an investigation by the Washington Post.

Laws Applicable to Medical Never Events

Some states have laws requiring a hospital to report a never event. Unfortunately, this is not a uniform requirement so, in some states, we have no idea how frequently these terrible events occur. Another problem is that most of the data reported is based on officially filed medical malpractice claims. This means the data is missing never events that occurred, but may not have actually led to litigation.

This is an important fact to consider for a victim of a never event medical negligence injury, or family member, contemplating reaching out to a Virginia medical malpractice lawyer. Not only will a claim possibly result in restitution for your lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering, but it will also be incorporated into the data to help put more of a spotlight on this important public health and safety issue.

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