Mistakes can happen in any medical or surgical procedure, and even the most skilled of physicians don’t perform perfectly with every patient. Sometimes mistakes have little to no long-term effect, and are nothing to worry about. In other cases, the long-term effects are significant. In some cases, the short-term consequences are significant but the problem can be fixed at a cost.
One common type of surgical error is to leave behind surgical items in a patient’s body. This type of error, sometimes called surgical retention, occurs in about one in every 5,500 surgeries and results in annual costs around $2.4 billion. Most often the item left behind is a sponge, but other instruments and items can be left behind as well.
Preventing surgical retention can mostly be avoided if hospitals and providers take precautions such as counting surgical items, but poor communication or lack of a precautionary policy can result in a mistake. Nevertheless, simply having a policy in place doesn’t necessarily prevent surgical retention.
Some health systems are utilizing technology to help avoid the, such as electronic counting, and this does show some promise. One wonders what the cost of implementing such technology would be and how available it would be to patients. Hopefully technology that works will become affordable enough that most hospitals can afford to implement it.
Patients who have experienced surgical retention were awarded, on average, $125,000 between 2007 and 2011. Each case is different, of course, and it is important for patients who have been impacted by surgical retention, or any other surgical error, to work with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to build the strongest case possible.