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Neverland in the operating room

If someone asked the top three leading causes of death in the United States each year, most people would either know or correctly guess one is cancer; another is heart disease; and perhaps a third may be accidents, strokes or possibly lung disease.

The CDC’s top three for their latest study are, in order of fatality numbers: Cardiac disease, cancer and respiratory disease. The real third leading cause of death is medical malpractice—a factor the CDC neglects to report. American citizens deserve to know that botched medical procedures cause a significant number of fatalities.

Neverland and never events

Neverland is a place no medical provider should visit. An error so egregious that it should have never happened is a “never” event. Examples of never events are:

  • Performing an entirely different procedure
  • Operating in the wrong location or the wrong side of the body
  • Giving the wrong medication or the wrong dose of medication
  • Exposing a patient to high radiation or X-rays from incorrect calibration
  • Switching operations between patients with the same or similar names
  • Not providing backup-unit availability in case of equipment failure
  • Failure to wash hands between patients, spreading toxic organisms

Medical malpractice and protocols

Medical workers from the Chief Executive Officer of a hospital down to the cleaning staff follow a series of protocols designed to prevent errors. Humans make mistakes. In spite of continual effort and vigilance, adverse events can happen. To cut the potential for error, hospitals and practitioners institute and follow strict protocols, guidelines, instructions and monitoring to make sure preventable errors never occur and to reduce negative outcomes from unexpected adverse conditions, from power outages to earthquakes. Medical facilities identify risks on macro and micro levels; they develop protocols and implement training to minimize harm. Protocols change when a failure occurs in the system. New protocols incorporate better practices from lessons learned.

Each patient is unique, and a person’s body chemistry may respond to medication in unexpected ways, or he or she may have a physical anomaly in one or more body structures or systems. Surgeons run into these surprises and have extensive training and experience to deal with unexpected problems.

All medical professionals are aware of the severe consequences and possible loss of licensure if they hurt a patient. Medical malpractice litigation has been a positive force in making hospitals level up. Never events are inexcusable. They occur when medical teams do not follow protocols. Any patient or patient family members should hold medical professionals and hospitals accountable to the greatest extent of the law when devastated by a preventable medical malpractice injury or death.