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Mistakes in counting lead to injuries for surigical patients

Imagine going home after a surgery thinking everything went well and then days later experiencing serious pain, only to discover that the surgery did go well, but hospital staff left behind a sponge or a scalpel inside your body. This happens to approximately five patients each day, according to analysis of 20 years of medical malpractice lawsuit information. This totals more than 2,000 claims for foreign objects being left inside patients each year.

Hospital administrators and safety experts say that this type of event should never happen. Patients can suffer from infections, internal bleeding, and other serious injuries that can cause permanent damage or even death in some cases.

This type of injury seems imminently avoidable through simple safety measures, yet the process of checking to make sure all items are accounted for is often ineffective. In many cases where an object is later discovered inside of a patient, hospital staff report that they believed that they had properly counted all of the items before and after surgery and that none were missing.

To try to tackle this issue, hospitals are turning to technology for a better way to track items in the operating room. One popular new process is using bar codes and a scanner to check everything in and out before and after a surgery. These devices have been shown to increase accuracy and are likely going to be adopted by more and more hospitals in the coming years.

Patients should know that no matter why the mistake happened, having a sponge or other item left inside their body after surgery is unacceptable and that hospitals must be held accountable for their negligence.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, “Can Technology Stop Surgeons From Leaving Sponges Inside Patients?” John Tozzi, March 25, 2014. 

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Alan D. Bell
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