Save a brain, make a checklist
On at least three occasions in 2007, surgeons at one Rhode Island hospital operated on the wrong side of their patients' heads. In one case, a resident neurosurgeon inserted a scalpel into the head of an 82-year-old patient. The surgeon noticed the error before reaching the skull and stitched up the wound, but the state health department fined the hospital $50,000. This sort of error is not terrifically rare. Based on malpractice judgments and out-of-court settlements for things like operating on the wrong side of a patient, or on the wrong patient, or leaving a sponge or other surgical object inside of a patient, researchers at Johns Hopkins estimate that such errors—called "never events" by hospital risk managers—occur not never, but more than 4,000 times in the U.S. every year.
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