The surgical sponge is most likely item to be left behind, study finds

On behalf of William Dean

A recent study found that most retained surgical object errors involve a surgical sponge.

Each year, many thousands of surgical procedures are performed in Florida. The patients requiring such procedures put their trust in the surgeon to use their training and experience to achieve a favorable outcome. Unfortunately, surgical errors can occasionally occur, since surgeons are human after all.

However, if the error is obvious even to a layperson, a surgical error is less understandable. According to a recent study by the American College of Surgeons, patients still regularly face the threat of one of the most obvious errors-a retained surgical object. This type of error occurs when a surgeon leaves behind a surgical tool inside the patient after the surgery has been completed. According to the study, about 7,000 patients (two occurrences per every hospital) in the United States experience this type of error each year.

The study found that the most common surgical item left behind in patients is a surgical sponge. This is perhaps due to their small size and ability to blend into the surroundings inside the patient's body. During surgery, these sponges become soaked with blood or wedged behind body parts. As a result, they are often hard to spot and are thus forgotten as the surgical procedure winds down. The study determined that patients undergoing surgery in the thoracic cavity, pelvis or vagina were especially at risk for a left-behind sponge.

Although a soft sponge may seem less harmful than other stainless steel surgical objects, they can present a significant danger to patients. If the sponge is not taken out soon after the surgery, it can easily become infected. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, leading to sepsis and death.

Although many hospitals attempt to avoid retained surgical object errors through counts of surgical instruments, this is not an effective strategy, due to miscounts caused by human error. The study found that radiofrequency technology (RF) is currently the most effective prevention measure. RF works by implanting a computer chip in each surgical instrument used. Before the surgical procedure ends, a technician waves a wand over the patient's body. A computer can then identify any tool or instrument that is not accounted for. The study found hospitals that have adopted RF have seen a 93 percent reduction of retained surgical object errors.

Although RF is very effective, it is pricey. Due to this fact, many hospitals still rely human counts or x-rays to identify left-behind items, both of which are subject to human error. Although the cost of RF is high, the study found that it would pay for itself many times over, since it would significantly reduce the high cost associated with readmitting the patient for follow-up surgery and treatment.

Speak to an attorney

Sadly, many hospitals are for-profit entities that, despite the benefits of RF, value profit more than the safety of their patients. In many cases, it is only after the hospital is sued for medical malpractice does it see the wisdom of changing procedures or investing in technology to minimize the risk of surgical errors.

If you or a loved one have been injured because of a surgical error, you may have the right to recover compensation. The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Ford, Dean & Rotundo, P.A. can listen to your situation and advise you further of your rights under Florida law.