Connecticut residents know medical malpractice is a serious issue. Harm or injury caused by a doctor's or hospital's negligence often produces devastating, long-term consequences.

A new report by the John Hopkins School of Medicine reveals that doctor mistakes and hospital errors remain high. Researchers at the school analyzed data spanning 20 years from the National Practitioner Data Bank.

The NPDB is a federal database of medical malpractice claims. Claim information in the NPDB is generally considered legitimate, which makes it a highly reputable source for information. Researchers found over 9,000 medical malpractice payouts within the 20-year period, with total payments of over $1 billion.

Study shows thousands of surgical errors occur every year

The study shows that doctors leave objects such as a sponge or towel in a patient's body after surgery approximately 39 times per week. Additionally, the wrong body part is operated on or the wrong surgery altogether is performed around 20 times per week.

The researchers estimate that these events occurred around 80,000 times between 1990 and 2010. This resulted in:

  • Death in 6.6 percent of patients
  • Permanent injury in 32.9 percent of patients
  • Temporary injury in 59.2 percent of patients

However, they caution that these estimates are likely low. For instance, an object that is left in a patient may go undiscovered if the patient does not experience future complications.

These occurrences are termed "never events," which means there is general agreement among the medical community that they should never happen. Current law requires hospitals to report settlements or judgments from "never events" to the NPDB.

Hospitals are also required to share "never event" information with the Joint Commission, a group that reviews hospital standards and safety procedures. However, this information is not always reported.

Study authors say these types of errors are preventable

One of the study's leaders, an associate professor of surgery at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, says these errors are completely preventable.

According to hopkinsmedicine.org, he also encourages more public reporting of adverse events, saying it makes hospitals more accountable for physician errors and helps consumers make educated decisions when choosing a hospital.

He compares preventable medical mistakes such as these to those that are unpreventable, such as infections. Even if everyone does everything right all the time, infection rates will never likely be zero.

Hospitals are aware of these grim statistics and are taking steps to potentially reduce the rates of preventable errors. Some hospitals require staff to take a "timeout" before surgery to review the patient's records and verify they are operating on the correct patient.

Other hospitals advocate for widespread use of checklists during surgery to make sure no items are inadvertently left inside a patient. Some are even placing electronic bar codes on surgical instruments to ensure they are accounted for.

Connecticut residents who are injured by a doctor's negligence or hospital mistake need a skilled medical malpractice attorney. The attorney can provide valuable guidance and help the victim hold the appropriate parties responsible.