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Serious surgical mistakes are more common than you think

Physicians and medical doctors hold a position of respect in our culture. It takes many years to complete medical school and the required residency, and these professionals usually have impressive skills to go along with that education. Surgeons, in general, are often venerated as incredibly gifted and intelligent. That may be true, but it doesn't mean that they are above making mistakes. Unfortunately, when surgeons make mistakes, it can have a serious negative impact on the patient.

You might imagine that surgical mistakes are relatively unlikely. After all, modern medicine is so advanced. How could a doctor with thorough medical records and plenty of support staff make a critical mistake when operating on a patient? The truth is that medical mistakes are horrifyingly common. While the reasons why vary, the outcome is often medical trouble for the patient.

How common are surgical mistakes?

Believe it or not, more than 10 surgical mistakes happen every day in the United States. Mistakes that should never happen because they are entirely preventable, are called never events. There are roughly 4,000 of these mistakes every year, and they cost more than $1.3 billion in medical malpractice lawsuits.

According to a study that analyzed malpractice settlements between 1990 and 2010, several kinds of mistakes happen every week. Roughly 79 major and preventable surgical mistakes happen in any given week in the United States.

What are the most common kinds of surgical mistakes?

Many people have seen an episode of an older sitcom that features characters witnessing a surgery from above. One of the patients chooses to eat candy, and a piece ends up flying down and landing in the surgical site. It may seem like something that only happens on television, but that actually represents the most common form of surgical error.

Every week, approximately 39 patients end up with a foreign object inside their body after an operation. That's roughly half of all surgical errors. Now, these situations don't involve candy. Instead, patients can end up sutured with sponges, gauze or even surgical tools still inside their bodies.

Another 20 people every week have a surgeon perform the wrong procedure on them. They may need their appendix taken out, but the doctor could end up doing something entirely different. That means that the patient will suffer the ill effects of an inappropriate surgery as well as the impact of not having the procedure that they should have received.

Another 20 operations result in a doctor performing surgery on the wrong body location. That could mean removing your healthy kidney instead of the one with tumors or replacing a knee joint that was working just fine.

It's easy to see how surgical mistakes can prove devastating. People in compromised health may not have the ability to undergo another surgery quickly. There are potential expenses, as well as the additional recovery time or loss of function to consider. Surgical mistakes are a serious issue for patients.

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