The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently changed their policy so that they no longer pay for “never events” in hospitals. Never events are exactly what they sound like, and include incidents such as foreign bodies being left in a patient after surgery. Other events include wrong site surgery and infections acquired in the hospital. Previously, patients who suffered from never events were reimbursed by the government. Now, no more.

Now that CMS has implemented its policy to not reimburse for eleven such events, Leapfrog has reported that hospitals are taking these events more seriously. The number of hospitals with defined never events policies has seen a significant increase. One benefit of reducing never events is a reduced liabilities insurance bill. Another obvious benefit is healthier, happier patients.

While hospital policies are useful, another major tool in reducing these errors is a proper suite of healthcare technology. There are some expensive but useful platforms that hospitals may implement. Vanderbilt’s Medical Center provides some excellent examples. Patients are bar-coded, and each drug that is administered is bar-coded and scanned before the drug is taken. The system then ensures that the patient gets the correct dosage at the correct time, and also scans for adverse drug interactions. Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) systems streamline diagnoses to remind the physician to order the correct treatment. As a result, mistakes that lead to never events (i.e., infections) are greatly reduced. In some hospitals, RFID tags are being considered to track tools and equipment, ensuring that they are where they are supposed to be (and not in your stomach).

While technology poses a great opportunity to reduce these errors, sometimes the best solutions are the lowest tech. How to reduce wrong site surgeries (i.e., repairing the wrong knee, or amputating the wrong limb)? Easy– give the patient a sharpie and tell them, “X marks the spot (where the surgeon should cut).”

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