Study finds hospitals benefit financially for making surgical mistakes

In the spring of 2010, a woman had a cesarean section. But shortly following the operation, the woman could tell that something wasn't quite right. After her stomach swelled so much that she looked pregnant again, she went into her doctor who immediately sent her to the emergency room where X-rays discovered that a sponge the size of a washcloth had been left in her during her cesarean section. USA Today says the woman needed a six hour surgery to get the untangled sponge out of her intestines and then had to spend three weeks in the hospital recovering.

Little incentive to improve

While this woman's experience was horrific, instances like this one where a medical professional leaves something behind in the body of their patient after surgery aren't uncommon. According to research done by Johns Hopkins University, events that should never happen in surgery, like leaving a sponge in a patient's body, happen about 4,000 times a year.

In a recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, it was discovered that hospitals make money from these surgical errors, giving them little incentive to make them stop. The study analyzed the patient records of 34,256 people who had surgery in 2010 in one of 12 specific hospitals. Of those patients studied, 1,820 suffered from medical conditions following surgery, like pneumonia, blood clots or infected incisions that could have been prevented.

It was found that these complications quadrupled the length of time a patient had to stay in the hospital following their surgery and allowed for hospitals to take in an average of $30,500 more than those patients that did not have complications following surgery.

Consequences of these mistakes

Unfortunately, while hospitals may benefit from surgical errors, these mistakes cost patients dearly. According to the same research done by Johns Hopkins University which studied 9,744 paid malpractice claims involving surgical error:

  • 59 percent of cases resulted in temporary injury.
  • 6.6 percent of the cases resulted in death for the patient.
  • Permanent injury was caused to 33 percent of the patients studied.

Although surgical errors usually manifest themselves later after the patient experiences complications, not all of the items left behind after surgery by doctors are ever even discovered. The number of surgical errors made by medical professionals every year is high, but it is suspected that the number of mistakes made by surgeons annually is even larger.

Because the consequences of surgical error are serious, it is essential that you speak with an attorney in your area following a mistake in order to hold your medical providers accountable.