What’s a Medical Malpractice “Never Event?”

Published on May 21, 2024 at 7:28 pm in Medical Malpractice.

What's a Medical Malpractice Never Event

In the realm of health care, patient safety is paramount. Yet, despite most providers making their best efforts to avoid medical errors and other types of malpractice, they still occur, often leaving behind devastating consequences. Unfortunately, these incidents happen more often than most of us would like to believe.

Medical malpractice and mistakes are now the third-leading cause of death in the US, according to this a 2017 Studies in Health Technology and Informatics journal article published by the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Among the worst of these medical malpractice errors are “never events.”

In this post, we’ll discuss what’s a medical malpractice “never event” and why they’re considered to be so serious. We’ll also address what measures can be taken to prevent this type of medical negligence.

Defining “Never Events”

A never event is a serious, preventable medical error and negligence act that should never occur during patient care.

These events are typically so egregious that they indicate a serious underlying issue with the health care system, such as inadequate safety protocols or lapses in communication, resulting in serious harm or death.

The term “never event” implies that these incidents should not happen under any circumstances.

They are considered preventable through the implementation of standard safety protocols and procedures. The classification of certain errors as never events serve as a stark reminder of the need for constant vigilance and adherence to best safety practices in health care settings.

Types of Never Events

Never events encompass a wide range of medical errors, each with potentially devastating consequences for patients. Some other examples of never events could include:

  • Wrong-Site Surgery: Performing surgery on the wrong part of the body, such as operating on the left knee instead of the right one. This research shared by the NLM shows that more than 4,000 surgical errors occur in the US every year and that operating on the wrong body part is often responsible for these incidents.
  • Retained Foreign Objects: This refers to doctors or surgical team members leaving surgical instruments, sponges, or other foreign objects inside a patient’s body after surgery.
  • Wrong-Patient Surgery: Operating on the wrong person can occur due to a records mix-up or a medical team’s failure to properly verify the patient’s identity.
  • Medication Errors: Included in this category are administering the wrong prescription drugs or incorrect dosages of them. Errors like these can lead to severe patient harm or fatalities. Dosing errors or improperly prescribed medications claim approximately 7,000 to 9,000 lives each year, per the previously cited NLM article.
  • Air Embolism: Allowing air to enter the bloodstream during medical procedures, such as a central line insertion, can result in serious complications, including a patient’s death.

How Impactful These Medical Errors Are

The impact of never events on patients and their families can be profound. These errors can result in serious injury, permanent disability, or even death.

In addition to the physical harm they cause, never events can also have a significant emotional and psychological impact on patients and their loved ones. Trust in the health care system may be eroded, leading to feelings of betrayal and disillusionment.

Legal Ramifications

From a legal perspective, never events can have serious consequences for health care providers and institutions. Patients who have been harmed by these preventable errors may pursue legal action against the responsible parties, seeking compensation for their injuries and losses.

Medical malpractice claims arising from never events can result in significant financial settlements or judgments against health care providers, as well as damage to their reputations.

Eliminating the Occurrence of Never Events

Preventing never events requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the underlying causes of these errors. Medical facilities must prioritize patient safety through the implementation of robust quality assurance programs, provide ongoing staff training and education, and establish clear protocols and guidelines for patient care.

It’s essential to foster a culture of transparency and accountability for identifying and addressing potential risks before they escalate into never events.

Training and Education

One key to eliminating never events is ensuring that health care professionals receive comprehensive training and education in patient safety protocols and best practices.

This could include advanced training on procedures such as surgical site marking to prevent wrong-site surgery or improved protocols for medication administration and infection control. Ongoing education ensures that medical practitioners remain up to date on the latest evidence-based practices and guidelines.

Improving Communication

A 2019 Wellcome Open Research study shared by the NLM states that at least 27% of medical malpractice cases stem from miscommunication.

Effective communication and collaboration among members of the health care team are essential for preventing never events. This includes clear and accurate documentation of patient information, as well as open communication between physicians, nurses, and other medical providers involved in a person’s care.

By fostering a culture of collaboration and teamwork, health care institutions can reduce the likelihood of errors and improve patient outcomes.

Checklists and Protocols

Protocol checklists can help standardize procedures, minimizing the risk of never events. These checklists can ensure that critical steps are not overlooked during procedures such as surgery while also providing clear guidance on medication administration and other aspects of patient care.

By following established protocols and checklists, health care providers can reduce variability in practice and improve patient safety.

Getting Help If You’ve Suffered a Preventable Surgical Error

Never events represent serious lapses in patient safety and a breach in the medical industry’s duty of care for all patients. These are events that should never occur in any healthcare setting.

These preventable errors can have devastating consequences for patients and their families, as well as legal and financial ramifications for health care providers and institutions.  By prioritizing patient safety, implementing robust quality assurance programs, and fostering a culture of transparency and accountability, medical facilities can work to prevent never events and improve the overall quality of care.

If you believe that you, or someone you care about, has experienced a “never event” or any form of medical malpractice, contact Peterson Law Office. We have years of experience representing your fellow Kentucky residents and are eager to assist you if a health care provider in Lexington or elsewhere in our state unnecessarily harmed you. It’s free to discuss your case with one of our lawyers.

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