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Surgical errors: When a doctor violates patient trust

The trust you place in your doctor is like no other. Sometimes spouses do not even receive the same level of trust people give to their medical providers. One of the best examples of that trust is during a surgical procedure. If you recently underwent an operation, you may remember the flashing feeling of apprehension at the thought of allowing a near stranger to cut you open while you lay unconscious on a table.

Most often, surgeries go well, and patients recover fully without complications. However, research shows that an alarming number of mistakes occur in the operating room. Some of those mistakes are so heinous that the medical community has named them "never events," indicating that such errors should never happen. Nonetheless, despite hospital protocol and national attention, medical professionals continue to place patients like you at risk through their carelessness and neglect.

Never events

If your surgery did not go well, you may have wondered why. While every operation has its risks, you may be confused about your results, especially if the procedure was fairly routine or you were in relatively good health. Unfortunately, never events cannot be predicted based on your medical history. They result from inattention to detail, incompetence or outright negligence. Some of the most common examples of never events include:

  • A doctor leaving surgical objects, such as sponges or instruments, inside your body
  • A surgeon operating on the wrong part of your body
  • A medical team doing a procedure on you that was meant for another patient
  • Nurses or other professionals administering the wrong medications or doses following surgery
  • Your surgical team's poor hygiene resulting in infection

Perhaps your recovery team left you unattended and you injured yourself in a fall while trying to get to the bathroom. These are just a few examples from a list of incidents that the medical community deems unacceptable.

Learning from their mistakes

The Leapfrog Group, a national organization advocating for patient safety, surveys hospitals across the country to determine how they respond to never events and if those responses result in a decline in such incidents. This organization set standards for dealing with never events, including:

  • Admitting the mistake and apologizing to you or your family
  • Reporting the incident to the appropriate agency
  • Investigating the cause of the error

Recent Leapfrog surveys have determined that about 20 percent of hospitals do not meet these standards. With each year's survey, hospitals in more states, including New York, are declining to report their efforts at dealing with medical mistakes. There is no way to know for sure, but studies indicate that if your hospital refuses to follow the protocol for dealing with never events, it may continue to experience critical errors in the operating room, leaving trusting patients like you vulnerable to injury and death.

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