Retained surgical objects should be preventable medical error


Under any circumstance, being admitted to the hospital to undergo a surgical operation is an unnerving prospect, particularly as you must put your trust in the hands of the physician performing the surgery. Unfortunately, there are times when doctors do not meet the standards we reasonably expect from them and they make mistakes that can cause serious – even life-threatening – consequences for their patients.

Some surgical errors are considered entirely preventable and are therefore referred to as “never events,” as they ought never to happen. For instance, medical professionals occasionally fail to remove all of the surgical equipment used in the procedure – such as sponges – before closing the patient. Thereafter, the retained surgical object can cause infections and result in increased hospital stays and additional surgeries for the patient.

According to data compiled by the Joint Commission – a non-profit organization – there were over 770 instances in which a surgical object was left inside a patient following an operation from 2005 to 2012. Of those incidents, 16 patients lost their lives as a result of the surgical error. In addition, approximately 95 percent of the affected individuals required further medical care and longer admissions to the hospital because of the error.

To combat the frequency with which surgical objects are retained following an operation, hospitals have implemented various safety procedures. One of the most common is the use of a counting system, whereby individuals involved in the operation count the equipment – including sponges – on a number of occasions before, during, and after the operation. The counting procedure is meant to eliminate the possibility of a surgical object being left inside the patient.

New technology may help reduce the frequency of retained surgical objects

Of course, no matter how many times the objects are counted, the process is still subject to human error. As a result, some companies have sought to eliminate the possibility of such surgical errors by creating new technologies.

One company – Patient Safety Technologies – has introduced a new type of sponge, which includes a bar code. The bar code can be read by electronic scanners, even after it has been used during the surgery. Sponges are one of the more common objects left inside patients after surgery, as they are often difficult to spot. Sponges are used to soak up the blood inside the body and generally blend in as a result. The electronic scanners register the location of the sponge even after it has been used, reducing the likelihood that a sponge will be left inside the patient.

If you or a loved one has been harmed due to a retained surgical object following an operation, you likely have faced substantial medical expenses to resolve the surgical error. In such cases, you ought to consult with a qualified personal injury attorney who can ensure you do not miss out on the damages to which you might be entitled to cover the harm caused.