Never events are medical errors made in hospitals in Massachusetts and around the country that are extremely serious and usually preventable. The term “never event” was first used in 2001, which was two years after the Institute of Medicine released a report that drew attention to hospital errors and called for action. Data from Minnesota, where the reporting of never events is mandatory, does not show a significant fall in serious and preventable hospital errors over the last 20 years, which suggests that the problem is as serious now as it was when the To Err Is Human report was released.
Types of never event
To be considered a never event, a hospital error must be preventable and cause the patient serious harm. They are called never events because they should never occur in a modern and well-run hospital. Examples of never events include performing surgery on the wrong patient, performing surgery on the wrong part of a patient’s body, leaving surgical instruments inside a patient and performing a mismatched blood transfusion. All of these errors could form the basis of a medical malpractice lawsuit.
How common are never events?
Hospitals are not eager to draw attention to their mistakes, so the exact number of never events that occur in the United States each year is not known. The 1999 Institute of Medicine report estimated that never events kill about 98,000 people each year, but many experts believe the true figure is much higher. Another study that focused on just 18 types of never event concluded that these medical errors are responsible for $9.3 billion in unnecessary hospital charges, 2.4 million additional nights in hospital and 32,600 preventable patient deaths.
Lawmakers should act
Efforts to deal with never events are far more effective in states like Minnesota where hospitals are required to report this data. When no such laws exist, hospitals are extremely reluctant to release information about their mistakes and the consequences of their mistakes. If lawmakers in states without these laws are truly concerned about patient safety, they should follow the example set by the Minnesota legislature in 2003.