Yet, we still hear stories about surgical errors, particularly stories about instruments and other objects being left behind in patients’ bodies.
Surgical error statistics from Minnesota (the only state that tracks all surgical errors) reveal that about one in every 8,000 surgeries results in an object being retained in the patient’s body. While this doesn’t sound like a lot, it means one or two cases of retained objects per year per hospital. And, if you are the unlikely patient who is left with an object closed in the body after surgery, it can be a big deal. Over time, retained objects can cause severe pain, infection, blockages, perforation of internal organs, other internal injuries and even death.
Operating rooms keep a count of all sponges, gauze pads, needles and other supplies. Nurses are supposed to audibly count and document everything that goes into a patient and ensure that the same number of objects come out. Surgical openings in patients are not supposed to be closed if the counts don’t match – even if they are off by just one piece of gauze. This means nurses must comb through garbage cans recounting until the numbers match.
Despite precautions, often objects are not discovered until they cause trouble. In many cases, removal of the foreign object left in the body after surgery requires extensive surgery, lengthy recuperation and expensive hospitalization.
There are other methods that hospitals can use for keeping track of surgical supplies. A new system embeds tiny tagged objects in gauze, sponges and other supplies used in surgery. These “tags” send out a signal that is detected when a scanning wand is waved over the patient’s body. This system has been available since 2008 and there have been no cases of retained objects in the more than 100 hospitals currently using the system.
Retained objects are a surgical mistake that can be prevented and are not a normal risk of surgery. If you have experienced complications after surgery because of an object left inside your body, you have rights. The hospital should pay for your medical care, pain and suffering and other losses. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can look out for your rights and make sure that you get the compensation that you deserve.
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