Study: left-behind items occur twice in each hospital each year

A new study finds that left-behind surgical errors occur more often than you may think.

Every year, Americans undergo millions of surgical procedures. Whether the surgery is elective or necessary, minor or serious, the expectations are the same. Patients expect their surgeons to use their education and experience to ensure that the surgery goes smoothly.

Although most people know that surgeons are human and are thus prone to make mistakes, few would excuse surgical errors that are obvious to anyone that does not have medical training. Sadly, many of these types of surgeries happen each year. One of the leading types of serious and obvious surgical errors is left-behind items, or when a surgical item is left behind inside the patient after the surgical site has been closed up.

Left-behind items, or retained surgical objects as they are also known, occur about 5,000 to 7,000 times each year, according to prior studies. Unfortunately, a recent study by the Journal of the American College of Surgeons confirmed the findings of these previous studies. The study found that each hospital across the United States commits a left-behind surgical error an average of twice each year.

Surgical sponge of primary concern

The study looked at prior retained surgical object errors to determine which object was most likely to be left behind after surgery. Out of all the instruments commonly used in surgery, one item topped the list: the humble surgical sponge.

Surgical sponges are about two inches across and are used to soak up blood during surgery. Since these sponges are often used in hard-to-see areas and are camouflaged by the blood that they absorb, they are particularly difficult for the surgical team to locate once the procedure has been completed. According to the study, the areas where this type of error is most likely to occur are: the thoracic cavity, pelvis and vagina.

Although they are seemingly less harmful than a metal surgical instrument, left-behind sponges can pose a great danger to the patient. Since the sponge itself attracts bacteria, it can cause serious infections requiring further surgeries and extended hospitalization. In some cases, the infection caused by the error can cause sepsis, which can be fatal.

Unfortunately, there is currently no foolproof way of ensuring that this type of medical malpractice does not occur. Virtually all hospitals attempt to prevent the error by counting the number of instruments before and after the surgery. However, this method is very ineffective, due to human error. Some hospitals have also tried x-rays and bar-coded sponges with varying degrees of success.

According to the study, the most effective way to prevent sponges from being left behind is to implant them with radiofrequency chips. This allows the surgeon to scan the patient’s body for left-behind sponges after surgery using a wand. According to the study, hospitals using this technology reported a 93 percent decrease in retained surgical object errors.

If injured, consult an attorney

Unfortunately, radiofrequency technology is more expensive than other error-prevention methods. As a result, many hospitals choose profits over the welfare of their patients and have balked at the higher price tag that safety demands.

If a surgical mistake has caused you or a loved one to suffer harm, you may have a right to recover compensation for your medical bills, loss of wages, and pain and suffering under law. An experienced medical malpractice attorney at The Law Offices of Gismondi & Associates can listen to your situation and ensure that the responsible party does not escape accountability.

Keywords: surgical errors, retained surgical objects