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Patient health at risk when surgical objects are left behind


Posted by Thomas Pettinicchi of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Sep 27, 2012 in Surgical Errors

Patients who enter the hospital may already be nervous, anxious and scared before a surgical procedure. People become very vulnerable on an operating table when they are under anesthesia and helpless. It is up to the doctors and nurses in Connecticut hospitals to make sure that nothing goes wrong during a procedure. But all too often, mistakes are made and patients are the ones who must deal with the consequences of a surgical error.

Unfortunately, 4,000 people are the victims of one type of surgical error every year. Even after a procedure is complete and the patient is recovering, this mistake can remain hidden inside a person's body until it causes devastating damage. These situations occur when a doctor has failed to remove a surgical tool from inside of a person.

Leaving an instrument inside of a patient is referred to as "retained surgical items." It means that a doctor has neglected to remove scissors, a scalpel, clamps or, most commonly, surgical sponges from patients before closing them up. These foreign objects can wreak havoc on a person's internal organs and health before they are identified and removed.

Surgical sponges are the most common objects that are mistakenly left in a patient. In fact, two-thirds of all retained items are sponges. Hospitals most often have a manual system for counting the sponges used during surgery. This means that a nurse is solely responsible for keeping track of the number of sponges before a procedure and then making sure they have that same number accounted for at the end. But too often, mistakes are made and counts are off in a chaotic operating room.

There have been solutions offered to hospitals that would remedy this serious problem. Sponges with tracking devices inside of them would alert a doctor if one remains inside a patient. Though the cost of this technology is only about $10 per procedure, less than 1 percent of hospitals make use of the enhanced safety measure.

When a solution to surgical errors seems so accessible and effective, it is very difficult to understand why more hospitals do not utilize the tool. Ultimately, it is the patient who suffers serious internal injuries and infections, and must pay the price for this type of preventable mistake.

Have you been a victim of medical malpractice? Contact our Waterbury personal injury attorneys to discover your legal options.

Source: The New York Times, "When Surgeons Leave Objects Behind," Anahad O'Connor, Sept. 24, 2012