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Report shows sponges often left inside body after surgery


Patients whose illnesses or injuries require them to go under the knife must rely on their physicians to ensure their safety and well-being. When a surgeon fails to adhere to a proper standard of care or a nurse is negligent in performing his or her duties, the consequences can be disastrous and life changing.


There are certain errors that can take place in the operating room that are entirely preventable. For instance, in some cases, a foreign object - such as a surgical tool or sponge - is left inside the patient following the surgery. When such an error is made, the consequences may not be observed for weeks, months or even a year. Often when the surgical error is discovered, though, the cost to the injured patient is significant.


Many studies have been conducted to determine the frequency with which foreign objects are retained in the body following surgery. Recently, USA Today examined data from a variety of sources, including information from:


  • Academic studies

  • Government reports

  • Legal records


The investigation revealed that surgical objects are left inside patients on 4,500 to 6,000 occasions annually in the United States. The most common object left inside a patient - according to the USA Today report - is sponges, which are often left in abdominal cavities after an operation. Sponges are used to soak up blood and other fluids during surgery, and therefore can be difficult to detect once the surgery is completed.


Hospitals can take steps to prevent retained surgical objects


In some cases, hospitals have started using sponges with electronic tracking devices embedded inside them. These tracking devices allow medical professionals to identify sponges still in the body by performing a scan prior to closing. Some hospitals that started using these sponges - including the Mayo Clinic and IU Health -reported that they have not had any instances of retained sponges after they started using those with tracking devices.


Despite these seemingly simple steps, many hospitals have not yet chosen to begin using sponges with tracking devices. They may soon find, however, that the cost of refusing to improve their safety techniques will be outweighed by the financial consequences of continuing to make preventable errors.


According to the Society of Actuaries, medical errors - including retained surgical objects - cost approximately $19.5 billion in 2008. The report estimated that more than 2,500 preventable deaths occurred as a result of medical errors that year.


Hospitals that choose to use sponges with tracking devices typically add between $8 to $12 to the total cost of each surgical procedure. When compared to the cost of additional surgeries and lengthy hospital stays required when a surgical object is left in the body, the price of the sponges seems quite small.


If you or a loved one has been harmed due to a surgical error, consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney will ensure your rights are protected.


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