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Surgical sponge never events: One system could help

Sponges are used in surgeries and are designed to absorb blood and keep the visible area clear for surgeons. Unfortunately, the reality is that these may soak up that blood and become nearly impossible to find again. Even though the staff may count how many go in and how many come out, mistakes could be made.

Leaving behind surgical sponges in a patient is known as a never event. The name "never event" is self-explanatory, but it refers to medical errors that never should have happened if the team was following the right protocols.

Retained objects, like sponges and other instruments, are categorized under never events, because the nurses who are supplying surgeons with them, the surgeons themselves and others involved, are supposed to keep track of where they're placed and how many are used. As those items are taken out of the body, they are to be counted again.

If a miscount occurs, or if a sponge can't be found, it might be left in the body as the patient is stitched up. The problem is that the sponge could be harboring bacteria and could cause infections, pain and complications for the patient now or down the line.

Medical professionals have been working to stop sponge retention

Medical professionals have been working hard to find ways to prevent sponge retention in patients. Some hospitals now use a data-matrix-coded sponge system. This high-tech system has small codes on each sponge that is used. As it goes in or comes out, it's scanned. That way, the team can be certain that they were all placed or removed appropriately.

Using the system, one study showed that over 1,862,373 sponges were placed and removed, but none were left inside patients. A simple change like this could be beneficial in every hospital setting, but not every hospital or clinic uses this system.

What should you do if you are a victim of a never event?

A sponge should never be left inside a patient. If you've suffered complications, required a second surgery or needed additional care, then the medical team or provider, hospital or clinic may be liable for your injuries.

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