How Even a Small Surgical Item Can Turn to a Big Problem

We’ve all heard stories of patients who have suffered a serious infection or injury because a doctor left items inside of them after a surgery. From surgical gloves to forceps, these retained surgical items are costly mistakes to make, costing a patient roughly $63,000 to have one of these objects removed.

If estimates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are correct, and one in every 5,500 to 7,000 surgeries involve a retained surgical item, then we could have a bigger problem than most people realize. So how are these surgical mistakes occurring and what can be done to prevent them from happening?

A surgical item can be left behind in a patient’s body because of a number of reasons including inattentive medical staff and negligence. In some cases, surgeons have even continued closing up patients — knowing full well that items had been left behind — because they were more concerned about the patient being under anesthesia for too long.

Even though any retained surgical item can lead to serious injury or infection, some are more dangerous than others, such as those with porous surfaces like sponges and gauze. That’s why some hospitals across the nation are starting to use small radiofrequency devices embedded in the gauze or sponge that can help surgeons locate retained surgical items before they seriously injure the patient.

Although radiofrequency systems can be expensive, those who have suffered injury because of a retained surgical item will tell you that it’s a cost hospitals should be willing to take, especially if it can help eliminate the risk of a mistake happening down the road in future surgeries.

Source: The Washington Post, “When your surgeon accidentally leaves something inside you,” Lenny Bernstein, Sept. 4, 2014