A recent article highlighted the significant number of medical malpractice incidents when foreign objects are left in patients following surgeries. Peter Eisler, on behalf of USA Today, wrote the informative article discussing how these medical mistakes cost victims unnecessary pain, suffering, and sometimes even their lives. Number wise, Mr. Eisler indicated that dozens of times a day throughout our country patients leave the operating room with surgical items, instruments, and equipment in their bodies. Medically, however, all healthcare providers recognize these mistakes are truly preventable, and in the medical field they are often referred to as “never events.”
The most common foreign object left in patients is the gauzy, cotton sponge that doctors and nurses use during operations to soak up blood and other fluids, as well as to hold organs in place. These are often difficult to see for the doctors, and the surgical team must be on full alert to ensure that all foreign objects going into the body actually come out. There are often other items such as forceps, clamps, cutting devices, and other surgical hardware which are left in patients and show up in post-operative x-rays.
Medical advances have designed many of these foreign objects to be readily identifiable prior to completion of the surgery. But most of our nation’s hospitals have been reluctant to employ this new electronic technology – even though it significantly reduces the risk of sponges being left behind in patients. The author notes that fewer than 15% of United States hospitals use sponges equipped with electronic tracking devices based on their survey of the companies that manufacture these devices.
The numbers that they found were staggering. Their research into studies and government data suggest that foreign objects are left in patients between 4,500 and 6,000 times a year. And the cost associated with these foreign objects average more than $60,000. The cost to the human being is often much greater though. Significant and lingering injuries, as well as death can result.