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Hospitals Mess Up Medications in Surgery—a Lot

Half of all operations involved some kind of drug error in a study at an elite medical center.
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Photographer: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

About half of all surgeries involve some kind of medication error or unintended drug side effects, if a new study done at one of America’s most prestigious academic medical centers is any indication.

The rate, calculated by researchers from the anesthesiology department at Massachusetts General Hospital who observed 277 procedures there, is startlingly high compared with those in the few earlier studies. Those studies relied mostly on self-reported data from clinicians, rather than directly watching operations, and found errors to be exceedingly rare.