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Leaving items behind after surgery is a preventable mistake

One of the most preventable errors that can be made during surgery is leaving an object behind in a patient's body. While there are several ways to combat this issue, it continues to occur; in fact, on average, about two people each year die as a result of items that are left behind in surgery. Now, a watchdog committee has issued an alert warning to hospitals to be keenly aware of these kinds of surgical errors.

Aside from the costs in human lives, financial costs from these errors are also substantial. Expenses from fixing a problem caused by an object that has been left behind could easily reach $200,000. Many cases also lead to longer hospital stays that would not otherwise have been necessary.

There are several different likely causes of errors such as these, including:

  • Unexpected and urgent surgeries;
  • Unexpected changes in the surgery;
  • Multiple procedures in the same surgery;
  • Staff members rotating in and out during surgery; and
  • Overweight patients.

These are certainly not all the causes of items being left behind, but they are some of the ones that seem to recur. Others involve a lack of effective communication between doctors and staff members; not understanding or choosing to ignore policies and procedures; and not properly educating staff members.

It may be that one of the best ways to prevent this from happening is also one of the most simple and straightforward: keep an accurate count and tally of all objects and equipment being used, and make sure they are all accounted for before completing the surgery.

Source: Modern Healthcare, "Joint Commission calls for hospitals to address problem of objects left in surgical patients," Ashok Selvam, Oct. 17, 2013

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