It might seem like a stereotypical example, but there is a reason why so many people think of a sponge left inside someone's body when they talk about medical errors. It happens entirely too often, and is a textbook example of medical malpractice.
These unfortunate situations are known as “retained instruments,” and can include all sorts of surgical equipment besides sponges being left inside patients during a surgery – gauze pads, surgical needles, and even scalpels are other examples. A retained instrument is nearly always “open and shut” medical malpractice, because the very fact that surgical equipment was left inside you as you were sewn shut screams of negligence. Health care organizations like the National Quality Forum colloquially refer to retained instruments as one of their 28 “never events” – something that can happen during surgery, but absolutely and under no circumstances ever should happen.
How Often Do Retained Instruments Happen?
While numbers of never events and retained instruments are not accurately reported, studies have been done to estimate the number of times a surgical instrument is left inside a patient during surgery. One, done by the Mayo Clinic over a period of four years, found that there is one incidence of a retained instrument in every 5,500 operations.
Even if the equipment left inside a patient is not something as clearly dangerous as a scalpel, the toll it can take on a patient is severe. Sponges, which likely account for about two thirds of all retained instruments, can wrap around vital organs and cause infections and complications following surgery. They also require a new surgery – complete with its attendant risks and costs – to remove.
New Technology Aims to Stop Retained Instruments from Happening
Luckily, one of the ways that new technology is changing surgery is by preventing retained instruments. A company called Stryker has developed its Safety-Sponge System, which it claims will prevent retained sponges from ever happening, again, which will avoid $2.4 billion in annual costs.
Stryker's system is remarkably simple. By fusing a barcode to each sponge and attaching a scanner to an IV pole in the operating room, the system can automatically perform equipment counts before, during, and after a surgery. The barcodes can be read by the scanner through any bodily fluid, including blood. Stryker is so certain that its mechanism will prevent sponges from being left behind that it says it will pay up to $5 million in legal fees on behalf of any surgical team that it fails.
In Case of a Never Event, Contact a Baltimore Medical Malpractice Attorney
Until never events come to the point where they never actually happen, medical malpractice attorneys like those at the law office of Gilman & Bedigian will fight for your interests both in and out of court. There is no reason why you should suffer without compensation for an injury that was outside of your control, and which you did not deserve. Contact us online or by calling (800) 529-6162.