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Methods hospitals use to curb surgical errors

Charleston medical facilities have several incentives to improve patient care. Certainly, doctors and hospitals are concerned about their reputations. Medical professionals are also trying to prevent medical errors for financial reasons.

Settlements and damage awards generated by medical malpractice lawsuits can cost health care providers a lot of money.

The U.S. government is also changing how hospitals and doctors are evaluated for Medicare reimbursements. Half of Medicare funds will be based on the quality of patient care provided in 2018. A record of hospital or physician negligence places those funds at risk.

Up to 65 percent of all hospital adverse events – the medical community's term for an unwelcome, often harmful patient outcome – are linked to surgeries, according a Patient Safety in Surgery report published in 2014.

So-called "never events" -- errors that should never occur -- can do a lot of damage when doctors operate on the wrong site or perform the wrong surgery. Leaving foreign objects in a patient's body seems like a rare event. In fact, sponges, tools and other objects are forgotten and left inside patients on the average of about 39 times every week.

A university study examined the prevalence of never events in almost 10,000 patient cases over two decades. Never events caused temporary injuries among over 59 percent of patients. Almost 33 percent was permanently injured and another 6.6 percent died from mistakes that should have been prevented.

Many hospitals are now tracking surgical errors carefully, identifying problems and using information collected to improve patient care. Several hundred hospitals are combining adverse event data in the National Surgical Quality Improvement Project, whose director claims can help prevent more than 100,000 unnecessary hospital deaths annually. Some medical professionals say the program yields remarkable results, while others remain skeptical.

Compensation is available through legal claims for patients who've been harmed by a never event or some other form of carelessness.

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