In health care, a “never event” is a serious, preventable error that should simply never happen. If it does, it indicates significant problems with the procedures designed to ensure patient safety.

Some of the most classic — and horrifying — examples of never events include surgical procedures that are preformed on the wrong body part or wrong patient altogether. Classic examples include things like patients who receive right-knee replacements instead of left-knee replacements or a patient scheduled for a hernia operation being confused with another patient who needs cardiac surgery because they share a similar name.

While hospitals would like to focus on the fact that such errors are relatively rare (only happening once out of every 112,000 surgeries, on average), it’s important to realize that events like that are extremely detrimental to the patient when they do occur. Fully 57 percent of patients who suffer through never events die and almost 9 percent of the rest suffer permanent impairments. Many of the remainder have to undergo additional care or treatment that exposes them to more risk of infection, surgical complications and extended recovery times.

Is there any way to stop something like this from happening to you?

You can — and should — take some steps to prevent yourself from falling victim to wrong-site or wrong-patient surgery:

  • Take a family member or friend with you into the prep area before surgery. Make certain that the person with you knows what surgery is being done and can advocate for you and step in if something seems wrong or out of place.
  • Don’t accept any medication that relaxes you or impairs your ability to think clearly, like Valium or Xanax, until you’ve spoken to your doctor and confirmed what procedure is being done. Remember that your doctor treats thousands of patients every year — don’t count on his or her memory!
  • Take a Sharpie marker and label your body parts to prevent confusion. For example, if you’re having surgery on your left knee, write “Do Not Cut” and “Wrong Knee” on the right knee where it can be seen immediately if someone starts to prep the wrong knee after you’re unconscious.

If you do end up a victim of a surgical error that never should have happened, talk to an attorney as soon as possible about your right to compensation.

Source: PSNet, “Wrong-Site, Wrong-Procedure, and Wrong-Patient Surgery,” June 30, 2017