Report finds preventable surgical errors persist in high numbers

Efforts to rein in surgical errors haven't eliminated cases of doctors operating on the wrong patient or the wrong body part, according to a new report.

Researchers identified 25 wrong-patient procedures and 107 wrong-site treatments reported to just one insurance company in one state (Colorado) over a six-year span.

The findings — published Monday in the journal Archives of Surgery — reveal a "persisting high frequency of surgical 'never events,' the authors wrote. "Never events" refer to episodes that are 100 percent preventable and should never occur.

The findings weren't overlooked by Washington's trial lawyers lobby, which is using the report to lobby against any new restrictions on malpractice claims — a central feature of the Republicans' plans to overhaul the new healthcare reform law.

"Colorado has some of the most anti-patient laws in the country, severely capping medical negligence cases," Ray De Lorenzi, spokesman for the American Association for Justice, said Tuesday in a blast e-mail. "This clearly has not helped patient safety."

Any changes to malpractice law, De Lorenzi added, "should focus on the tens of thousands of people injured annually by medical errors, not taking away their rights via 'tort reform.' "

As part of their "Pledge to America," House Republicans laid out plans to lower overall medical costs by putting new limits on malpractice claims. 

"Skyrocketing medical liability insurance rates have distorted the practice of medicine, routinely forcing doctors to order costly and often unnecessary tests to protect themselves from lawsuits, often referred to as 'defensive medicine,' " the Pledge states. "We will enact common-sense medical liability reforms to lower costs, rein in junk lawsuits and curb defensive medicine."

The new "never events" report was based on an examination of more than 27,000 adverse events that were self-reported by Colorado surgeons between 2002 and 2008.