Retained surgical items pose significant risks to Washington patients

The world of medicine continues to make breakthroughs which enable doctors to treat diseases that were once thought to be incurable. Yet, in spite of these advancements, medical errors continue to occur in King County , exposing patients to further harm. One of the biggest medical problems is surgical errors.

Never events

In 2012, a study revealed that surgical errors are quite common according to Medical News Today. During an examination of a 20-year period span of medical malpractice claims, it was determined that every year in the U.S. over 4,000 "never events" happen in surgical procedures. Never events are given this name over the simple fact that they are events that just shouldn't happen.

Retained surgical items are considered never events. Researchers stated that it is difficult to estimate the number of these types of events on their own because some patients may not even know they have a foreign object inside them. However, it is known that when surgeons make this type of error, it is probably not the first time. The study revealed that 62 percent of surgeons had a repeat history with this problem.

Complications from never events

When a foreign object, like a sponge or surgical tool, is left inside a patient, human tissue often grows around it, causing a number of complications for the victim. These complications include:

  • Infections.
  • Digestive dysfunction.
  • Searing pain.
  • Death.
  • The need for additional surgery.
  • Physical, emotional and mental scars.

USA Today related the story of a man who had surgery to treat a digestive disorder. A year later, he started having problems with his stomach. It seemed that several sponges had been left inside during that surgery. The ailment he thought was a stomach bug was actually an accumulation of infections that had occurred after his intestines and the sponges fused together. The man lost a large portion of his intestines and suffers emotionally, physically and mentally from the traumatic experience.

Hospitals ignoring preventive technology

During surgery, surgical staff conducts a physical count of all sponges and surgical equipment before the procedure and after to make sure that everything is accounted for. However, The New York Times reported that a hospital decided to study the effectiveness of a new technology which uses sponges outfitted with radio frequency tags. Researchers found that during an 11-month period the technology alerted staff to 23 sponges which had accidently been left in a patient after staff used a physical count and were sure that there were no missing sponges.

Despite the fact that multiple studies conducted at hospitals show surgical item retention is a continuous problem, USA Today reports that hospitals are reluctant to use the new technology, citing cost concern. Less than 600 hospitals across the U.S. have utilized the new tracking technology.

When it comes to the safety of patients, hospitals should do all they can to prevent errors from occurring. When someone has been injured because of the negligence of their surgeon or medical professional they should talk to an experienced attorney about their legal options.