Thousands of people each year suffer serious complications from the most preventable injury: surgical items left in the body after an operation. Items like sponges, clamps, and needles can cause life-threatening infections and other complications, including perforation of internal organs. Retained foreign objects after surgery are classified as “never events,” meaning they are never supposed to occur and are 100% preventable.
Current studies suggest that surgical instruments are left in patients between 4,500 and 6,000 times each year. This means that for every 5,500 surgeries, 1 object is left in a patient. About 1% of these cases result in death. These retained foreign objects, most commonly sponges used to soak up blood and fluids, can spread harmful bacteria or cause painful tumors to grow around the object. The foreign object may not cause any immediate symptoms and may take months or years to be discovered.
According to Medicare, hospitalizations for retained foreign objects cost on average over $60,000, and subsequent malpractice suits cost hospitals an average of $150,000.
Doctors normally rely on instrument counts to prevent foreign objects from being left in patients. But, a medical study by Mount Sinai Hospital found these counts to be less than reliable. They were found effective only 77% of the time. Nurses usually perform the before and after count of surgical instruments, but the surgeons are the ones actually using the instruments.
New technology allows hospitals to use sponge-tracking scanners to track each sponge used on a patient. New sponges can be equipped with bar codes that are scanned before and after surgery to track each individual sponge. Alternatively, the patient can be scanned for tagged sponges before the surgery is completed. Sponge-tracking technologies cost hospitals about $10 per surgery.
Common Retained Foreign Objects
The average surgery uses about 300 surgical instruments, and major surgeries can use up to 600 instruments. All of them must be carefully tracked or they can be mistakenly left behind. The most common objects left after surgery include:
- Sponges—sponges account for about 67% of all items left in patients after surgery
- Needles—about 9% of all objects left in patients after surgeries
- Instruments— instruments can include scalpels, forceps, and retractors. They account for about 3% of all items left in the patient after surgery
The other 21% of objects includes broken off bits of tubing, scalpel tips, masks, screws, and other small parts of surgical equipment.
Effects of Foreign Objects in the Body
Serious and potentially fatal consequences result from retained foreign objects after surgeries. Some complications include:
- signs of a problem are symptoms of infection. These infections can quickly become fatal if they reach vital organs
- Damage to organs, blood vessels, and other structures—sharp objects like needles and scalpels can perforate nearby organs and vessels.
- Death—if infections or internal damages are not detected and treated in a timely manner, results can be fatal for the patient
If you were injured as a result of a retained foreign object after surgery, the attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian can help. Surgeons and other medical professionals are negligent when they leave surgical instruments in patients. Retained foreign objects can be fatal or can result in additional medical care associated with additional medical costs, pain and rehabilitation, among other injuries. Call (800) 529-6162 today for a free consultation.