Some surgical errors are never supposed to happen. These are called "never events." Yet about 80 times a week, U.S. patients undergoing surgery experience a mistake that should never happen. These include leaving surgical instruments, needles or sponges inside the patient, operating on the wrong part of the body, or operating on the wrong patient entirely. This can include everything from removing the wrong breast in a mastectomy, or the wrong kidney in a nephrectomy, to cutting into the left lung when it is the right lung that needs the procedure. The consequences of these unacceptable mistakes range from a temporary harm to a permanent injury. Payouts for these procedures over a 10 year period have ranged up to $7 million. Over the last several years, Medicare, Medicaid, and some insurance companies have taken the position that they will not pay the medical bills for these "never event" surgeries.
The number of these surgical never events have continued to rise in the last several years, despite efforts by the Joint Commission to reduce them.
Among the surgical error cases I have handled is a case where surgeons who were removing a kidney that had a cancer in it tied off the wrong artery. Instead of tying off the blood supply to the kidney that was being removed, they tied off the artery that supplies blood to the intestines. They didn't realize their mistake for over 2 hours, as they continued to slowly cut away the attachments of the kidney to the abdomen. By the time this surgical error was discovered, it was too late. The intestines had died from a lack of blood supply.