Those things that doctors say never happen, actually happen pretty often.

A recent John Hopkins Patient Study contained pretty alarming findings about so-called “never events”. A “never event” is an occurrence that doctors universally agree should NEVER happen. Examples of “never events” include leaving a towel inside a surgical patient or operating on the wrong part of the body.

According to the study however, “never events” are misnamed. A more accurate description would be “events that happen far more often than people realize”. The study concluded that between 1990 and 2010, at least 80,000 “never events” occurred in American hospitals. And the estimates are probably conservative.

The researchers used the National Practicioner Data Bank(NPDB) for the study. The NPDB is a federal resource documenting malpractice claims and settlements related to circumstances where sponges are left inside patients or doctors operate on the wrong patient. Using the data from the NPDB, the researchers estimate that 4,044 surgical “never events” happen in the United States EVERY YEAR. That translates to surgeons operating on the wrong body part 20 times a week and leaving sponges in patients 39 times a week.

Marty Makary, MD, was the study leader and is pushing for public reporting of “never events”. Makary noted that if this information was readily available to the public, consumers could make better choices about where to have surgeries performed and hospitals would be “…under the gun to make things safer.”