What surgeons leave behind cost some patients dearly

A recent article appeared in the national newspaper “USA Today” that was fascinating so I had to share.   Peter Eisler penned an article “What surgeons leave behind cost some patients dearly” on March 8, 2013.  He recounted the story of an Alabama woman who had a surgical sponge left in her stomach during a c-section that left substantial injuries. Over the next month, her stomach grew so swollen that she looked pregnant again. By the sixth week, her bowels had shut down entirely. X-rays showed that a surgical sponge the size of a washcloth had been left in the woman’s  abdomen. After a six-hour emergency surgery to untangle the infected mass from her intestine, the woman needed nearly three weeks of hospitalization. This woman had suffered from what is known officially as a “retained surgical item” ” a sponge or instrument left in a patient’s body. Such mistakes are considered so egregious and so preventable that they’re referred to in the medical world as “never events.” They simply are not supposed to happen.
Eisler goes on to report of the statistics. “Thousands of patients a year leave the nation’s operating rooms with surgical items in their bodies. And despite occasional tales of forceps, clamps and other hardware showing up in post-operative X-rays, those items are almost never the problem. Most often, it’s the gauzy, cotton sponges that doctors use throughout operations to soak up blood and other fluids, a USA TODAY examination shows.”   He goes on to report that despite this thousands of hospitals and surgical centers have failed to adopt readily available technologies that all but eliminate the risk of leaving sponges in patients.  He further points out that there’s no federal reporting requirement when hospitals leave sponges or other items in patients, but research studies and government data suggest it happens between 4,500 and 6,000 times a year. That’s up to twice government estimates, which run closer to 3,000 cases, and sponges account for more than two-thirds of all incidents.  The results for patients are devastating.  Read the full article here

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