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Small surgical tools increasingly left in surgery patients

New Mexico residents may have heard reports about how surgeons are leaving surgical instruments in patients during surgical procedures. In fact, these types of accidents transpire about once per 5,500 surgeries. One of the most common objects that surgeons accidentally leave behind is sponges.

According to reports, mistakes like these are costing health care providers roughly $2.4 billion annually. In fact, from 2007 to 2011, 320 medical malpractice cases were filed nationwide for surgically retained items, which amounted to a payout of about $125,000 for each patient. Because sponges are not biocompatible, the body tries to reject and expel them. As a result, more than 16 percent of patients who suffer from having a sponge left in their body experience a permanent injury and nearly five percent die.

To increase patient safety and avoid costly lawsuits, a number of hospitals and health systems are adopting new ways to keep track of gauze material from becoming lost within a patient's surgical cavity during surgery. One such way is by using an advanced type of sponge that has been manufactured with a special embedded barcode, which will help hospital staff more easily identify the exact number of sponges used during surgeries to ensure none are left inside the patient. A representative for the University of Michigan Health System said that her hospital has already greatly benefited from the use of the sponge's barcode technology. Retained sponges occur for many reasons, including poor communication among medical staff, lack of policies, mistakes in manually counting the sponges and poor identifiable features when it is in the surgical cavity.

Surgery is meant to improve a patient's health. However, when a patient suffers permanent injuries because an instrument was left inside the patient, he or she may wish to pursue damages via a medical malpractice claim.

Source: Healthcare Finance, "Damages from left-behind surgical tools top billions as systems seek end to gruesome errors", Jeff Lagasse, May 6, 2016

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