Going through the experience of surgery is hard enough, but when surgeons make the mistake of leaving surgical items in patients’ bodies, the health consequences are serious and could be deadly. Available technology, including sponges with electronic tracking devices, could reduce the number of such incidents.
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Common Objects Left in the Body after Surgery
During surgery, surgical nurses or technicians are relied upon to keep track of the surgical objects used throughout the surgery. Common objects left in the body include:
- Sponges or towels
- Clamps or forceps
- Surgical gloves or masks
Why Does This Happen?
Approximately 4,500-6,000 incidents of objects are left in surgical patients in each year. One to two percent of these incidents prove to be fatal. Research has shown that with 32 million invasive surgeries performed each year in the United States, one of this type of incidents occurs in every 5,500 to 7,000 surgeries. However, because of the legal ramifications, many incidents are not reported by hospitals. It is estimated that only one percent of incidents are reported.
Surgeons do not automatically look for a sponge or surgical tool unless there is a discrepancy in the number accounted for. Sponges, which account for 70 percent of the objects left in the body, are particularly difficult to find. Because they absorb blood, they are difficult to see on an x-ray and they might appear to be part of a patient’s organs or other body tissues. The abdomen, vagina, and chest cavity are the most common areas where surgical objects are left inside patients’ bodies.
Consequences of Objects Left in Patients After a Surgery
The effects of having an object left in a patient’s body after surgery may not be immediately evident. When objects are left in the body, serious infections can occur that result in severe pain, fever, internal bleeding, digestive system issues, and bowel obstructions. Additional surgery will be required to remove the object. In severe circumstances, a patient could lose parts of organs, experience a prolonged hospital stay, or die from complications.
Prevention is Key
Fatigue, human error, and sheer negligence lead to objects getting left in patients. The average medical malpractice case will cost a hospital $150,000. Some hospitals have adopted sponge-tracking technology because it is more cost-effective than having to perform surgeries to remove surgical items left in patients.