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The Impact Of Surgical Items Left Inside The Patient

On Behalf of | Nov 6, 2013 | Medical Malpractice, Surgical Errors

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Many things can go wrong during a surgery, but the majority of patients have an operation that is considered successful and they begin healing normally. Incredibly, about 6,000 patients face severe post-surgery complications – including internal infection and wrongful death – because a surgical team left a sponge inside them.

To better understand the consequences of this medical mistake, researchers at the Joint Commission recently studied the cases of more than 770 patients who had surgical items left inside their bodies between 2005 and 2012. The impact of these retained surgical items (RSIs) was profound, often causing life-threatening complications and even killing 16 patients.

The problem is so common that many hospitals have been trying to reduce RSIs through experimental processes. One process involves barcode scanning, where each surgical item is scanned at the beginning and end of surgery; participating hospitals hope that this will account for all foreign objects that could be left inside a patient’s body.

Barcodes or not, all U.S. hospitals have some sort of system for tracking surgical items, but many rely on hospital staff to manually count, opening the door for human error. That may be a dangerous practice, as the Joint Commission study revealed an error rate of 10 to 15 percent when a human counts sponges.

Am I At Risk For A Sponge Being Left Inside My Body?

Some situations that significantly increase the chance of a retained surgical item include:

  • Emergency surgeries are nine times as likely to result in a RSI
  • Unexpected changes in surgical procedure cause a fourfold increase in RSI rates
  • Operations involving multiple procedures
  • When the patient is obese or has a high body mass index (BMI)
  • Inexperienced/poorly trained surgical staff

If you’re suffering inexplicable pain and complications after surgery, get immediate medical attention; a second opinion may be necessary.

An experienced surgery errors attorney can help you explore your options when negligence has caused serious harm or wrongful death.

McKeen & Associates, P.C. is a personal injury firm that focuses heavily on complex medical malpractice lawsuits throughout the country. If you or a loved one has been impacted by a foreign object left in his or her body after surgery, the attorneys at McKeen & Associates will provide a free consultation and help you explore your rights and options.

Source:, “Sentinel Event Alert: Preventing Unintended Retained Foreign Objects,” Oct. 17, 2013


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