In fact, 'never events' "is a misnomer," he says. "Because while some of them for sure should never happen – leaving a sponge in the belly and cutting off the wrong leg are never events – clearly there are things on the list that we don't completely know how to prevent. Yet by packaging them under this name of never events, it becomes a political statement that drives a political process forward," Wachter says.
"Now the pendulum is swinging back. Now, they're called just 'events' or 'adverse events' or 'hospital-acquired conditions,' because calling them medical mistakes was too pejorative," he says. "The risk of all of this is that eventually, no one knows what these words are supposed to mean."
Oh, and on the sponges. In my story, I called them 'retained foreign objects.' Wrong again, Gibbs says. They are "retained surgical items" because they are not foreign, nor are they objects like bullets put there by someone's violence. These are items put inside the consumer by the surgeon, 'er, I mean provider.
This debate over what we call things, "it gets exhausting," Wachter says.