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Report reveals how often foreign objects left in patients after surgery

Oct 22, 2014 - Articles - by Dodson & Hooks, APLC

When a patients goes into the hospital to have a surgical procedure, he or she is often anxious about whether the procedure will be successful and all of the complications that could result from having surgery. However, what patients rarely consider is that their doctors might do something wrong and compromise their safety, such as leaving foreign objects inside them after the surgery. However, this happens to patients with alarming frequency. A report issued in October 2013 by the Joint Commission, a non-profit group committed to improving health care safety, showed how often doctors leave foreign objects in patients after surgery.

Foreign objects cause damage

Researchers working on the report found that there were 772 incidents of doctors leaving objects such as sponges, needles, surgical tools, towels and retractors in patients after surgery between 2005 and 2012. Doctors were nine times more likely to leave a foreign object in a patient when they performed emergency surgery and four times more likely to do so when they had to unexpectedly change procedures during surgery.

Having a foreign object in the body can lead to physical and emotional damage. In some cases, it can be fatal. Of those patients who had objects left in them, 16 died and 95 percent had longer hospital stays than they would have had if they were just recovering from their procedures.

Surgery errors such as foreign objects left in patients after surgery also have a financial impact. Hospitals spend an average of $166,000 for legal fees, payments to patients and extra medical care costs for each foreign object left inside a patient.

Reasons for leaving objects after surgery

The report also examined the causes of foreign object left in patients. Researchers noted that preventing these errors is easy, but most hospitals do not have procedures in place to do so. Many doctors rely on counting tools and cavity searches to see if they have left anything in a patient at the end of the surgery, according to the report, but these are subject to human error. The report revealed that 80 percent of foreign objects left in patients occurred after doctors or other operating room staff had counted instruments.

The report suggested that two operating room staff members should be responsible for counting tools at three points during each procedure: before the procedure begins, before the cavity is closed and at the end of the procedure. The counters would then display the number of tools on a whiteboard in the operating room during the procedure, and at the end of the procedure the operating team should meet to debrief and discuss concerns about equipment or the surgery.

Speak with an attorney

Hospitals and health care providers should make every effort to protect patients’ safety during surgeries. If instituting new safety protocols can increase patients’ safety and prevent surgical errors, health care providers should adopt them immediately. Patients should not have to worry about sloppy or disorganized practices in surgeries, but it seems that they need to be concerned. If you have been injured by a health care provider’s error, speak with a seasoned medical malpractice attorney who can help you recover for your suffering and expenses.

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