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Surgical errors caused by common human behaviors

New Mexico residents who may have heard stories about surgical mistakes such as a sponge being left in a patient may be interested to know that such incidents are so rare they are referred to as "never events." This indicates that they are never supposed to happen, but a recent Mayo Clinic study found that never events occurred in 69 out of 1.5 million procedures done at one of their facilities over a five-year period.

The study also found that a combination of factors attributed to typical human behavior generally causes these incidents. Researchers identified four to nine of these factors per event. The errors themselves consisted of leaving something behind in a person following surgery, doing wrong site or wrong side surgery, doing the wrong procedure or putting in the wrong implant. The human behaviors were divided into four types. One was labeled "preconditions for action" and included poor handoffs and communication along with fatigue and stress. Other were problems with supervisors, organizational problems and unsafe actions.

Some practices have been put into place to reduce the incidence of never events even further. For example, Mayo has a system of tracking sponges, and researchers say that medical professionals should be encouraged to alert one another if they notice something is wrong.

Despite precautions such as these, surgical errors may still occur, and the results can be devastating for affected patients. They may suffer complications or be forced to undergo an unpleasant procedure a second time. Medical expenses might mount. A patient in such a situation may wish to consult an attorney to discuss whether medical malpractice may have occurred. The attorney might assist in making such a determination through a review of the patient's medical records as well as through consultations with experts.

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