Billions of Medical Malpractice Claims Revealed by John Hopkins Study

Johns Hopkins study reveals billions in Medical Malpractice Claims caused by thousands of surgical events that should never occur.

Medical-Malpractice-Claims-Lawsuit-Attorney-Cochran-OhioA patient safety study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins and published in the journal Surgery revealed that about 4,044 ‘never events’ occur in hospitals across the country each year. ‘Never events’, named because they should never happen, include wrong-site, wrong-patient, or wrong-procedure surgeries, as well as leaving objects inside a patient. These never events are at the heart of many medical malpractice claims.

Using the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), researchers established that 39 times a week a foreign object, like a sponge or towel, is left in a patient, 20 times a week a surgeon operates on the wrong area of a patient’s body, and 20 times a week surgeons perform the wrong surgical procedure on their patients. These events could result in Medical Malpractice Claims.

Medical Malpractice Claims

The Johns Hopkins study looked at twenty years of data and found 80,000 occurrences of never events, for which 9,744 medical malpractice claims were filed resulting in $1.3 billion in judgments and settlements. Of those cases, 6.6 percent of the patients died, 32.9 percent suffered permanent injury, and 59.2 percent suffered temporary injury.

Also revealed in the study was that nearly one-third of the never events were attributed to surgeons between the ages of 40 and 49, and occurred most often in patients of that same age group. Distressingly, 62 percent of those surgeons were named in more than one medical malpractice report, and more than 12 percent were involved in multiple never event reports.

Better Safety Systems Needed to Reduce Medical Malpractice Injuries

While safety systems have been in place to prevent ‘never events’ for a long time, these systems are failing. Some of these systems currently in place include:

  • Marking the surgical site on the patient with indelible ink
  • Taking count of all sponges, towels, and other items used in procedures, before and after the surgery is completed
  • Taking a time out before surgery to double check that surgical plans and medical records match the patient
  • Surgical checklists

However, these systems offer no guarantee to patients, and with the number of ‘never events’ shown in the study, it seems they may be failing. Better safety procedures are needed, as well as better reporting systems that would “put hospitals under the gun to make things safer,” said study lead Marty Makary, M.D., M.P.H., and Johns Hopkins University School of Medical associate professor of surgery. Among these new procedures should be never event public reporting. Though Dr. Makary says that hospitals are supposed to report never event information with the Joint Commission, it doesn’t always happen. Public reporting would not only enhance patient safety standards, it would also help patients decide where they would prefer to have surgeries performed and what surgeons they want to do them.

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