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Left-behind surgical objects: material problem in search of a cure

We have previously noted that adverse results sometimes do occur with surgeries and that such outcomes are not always tied to acts of medical negligence.

The same cannot be said about so-called “never events,” which are centrally marked by overt and egregious medical mistakes that occur as the clear result of medical malpractice.

Many readers of our blog in Illinois and elsewhere might immediately surmise what such mistakes encompass. Most notably, they are things like surgeries performed on the wrong body part or, far more shocking, even on the wrong patient. Fatal medication errors occur. Patients are inappropriately discharged.

And then there is the unintended retention of one or more foreign objects inside a patient’s body following an operation, which is clearly a surgical error that should not -- that cannot -- happen absent medical negligence.

Although there might not be an immediate answer as to how many medical facilities exist in Illinois where surgeries are performed, readers know that the number is high. A new study estimates that, on average, each of these hospitals and clinics commits two never-event surgical errors related to left-behind objects every year.

Adjudged from a facility-specific basis, that result might not seem to be overly alarming. Extrapolated across the totality of surgery-performing venues, though, a different picture emerges. To wit: Many hundreds of instances -- if not more -- occur annually where patients emerge from surgery with sponges, needles or surgical instruments left inside their bodies.

How alarming is that, on both a state and national level?

New and continuously developing technologies are emerging to supplant the mere counting of surgical objects both before and following surgery. Most prominently, they include systems that detect gauze and sponges through radio waves.

Obviously, those technologies need to be embraced and routinely incorporated without delay by surgical teams across the country.

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

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