Have you had the experience of a retained surgical item left behind in your body after your surgery?

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It’s hard to imagine, but every year an estimated 4,000 items are unintentionally left behind inside patients’ bodies.

What is a Retained Surgical Item?

A retained surgical item, also called a retained foreign object, is any item that is accidentally left inside of a patient after surgery is completed.

Most of the time, sponges used during surgery are left behind in a surgical patient. However, other items (clips, plastic retainers, surgical instruments, wires, gauze, swabs, or broken pieces of equipment) are also left inside or lost inside a patient’s body cavity (abdomen or pelvis) after the surgery is complete.

How Often Are Items Left Behind After Surgery?

Retained surgical items are referred to as “Never Events” because they should never occur in an American medical center. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, a patient has a 1 in 1500 chance of having an item left inside during a chest or abdominal surgery.

Serious Complications

A retained surgical object can result in serious injury, extensive hospitalization, and even death. According to the Joint Commission,

“95% of voluntarily reported retained surgical items required additional care and/or an extended hospital stay.”

The average retained object causes $60,000 in related medical bills. Worst of all, a forgotten or abandoned sponge or surgical instrument can lead to any of these serious medical conditions:

  • Infection
  • Serious pain
  • Internal bleeding
  • Sepsis (blood poisoning)
  • Injury requiring removal of the intestines
  • Local tissue reaction
  • Perforation or obstruction of blood vessels
  • Foreign body granuloma
  • Acute nerve lesions
  • Tumors
  • Abscesses
  • Cysts
  • Formation of gallstones
  • Immune system disruption
  • Death

Should I File a Retained Surgical Item Lawsuit?

Most retained surgical objects can be prevented through paying closer attention and being mindful, use of a thorough and accurate inventory, and use of adequate safety procedures. Human error on the part of the medical staff causes tragedy far too many times.

In the past, hospitals have attempted to avoid retained surgical objects by manually counting the resources used during surgery. A nurse typically keeps count of every sponge and all other tool used in surgery and the incision is not closed until everything is accounted for.

This method leaves room for human error, especially after long surgeries or complicated surgeries using hundreds of sponges that are easily miscounted.

The Joint Commission, an independent non-profit organization that oversees health safety, has found several common root causes of retained surgical items:

  • Absence of policies and procedures
  • Failure to comply with policies and procedures
  • Problems with hierarchy and intimidation within the surgical team
  • Failures of surgical team to communicate with each other
  • Failure to communicate with the patient.
  • Incomplete staff education
  • Other potential causes for retained surgical items include
  • Pieces of defective equipment getting lost
  • Misinterpretation of x-rays
  • Insufficient wound examinations
  • Failure to record that a tool was being used

Solutions Available, but not Utilized by Hospitals

It is the responsibility of the hospital to make sure that nothing gets left behind inside of patients, and that all items are properly accounted for before a patient completes surgery. They must have procedures in place for counting supplies, opening wounds, and when to close wounds.

Checklists can be used, but must be followed closely. Equipment should be top quality to ensure nothing breaks inside of patients, and hospitals must use modern technology that is available (such as RFID chip systems) to avoid the possibility of a miscount due to human error. Checklists may be used to ensure that everything is properly accounted for. Medical centers should avoid using low-quality or old equipment, which may break inside patients.

This new technology only adds an additional $8 to $12 to an operation, yet only about 15% of hospitals and surgical centers have adopted the technology. They choose, instead, to rely on the old systems of counting. There is no excuse for this.

How Van Wey Law can Help

If you have been a victim of a retained surgical item, our firm has the background and the experience necessary to investigate and pursue your case. We will create a personalized, custom plan to discover exactly what happened and the extent of the injuries you’ve suffered.

You become like family to us as work tirelessly using our experience to get you the best chance at the best outcome. Let us evaluate your case for free.

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