Mistakenly leaving surgical material or instruments inside a patient’s body happens thousands of times a year in the U.S., according to some estimates. Retained surgical instruments can cause pain and perforate organs, which can lead to potentially deadly infections. Additional surgery is typically needed.
Leaving a surgical instrument in a patient’s body is clearly a medical error. There is simply no excuse for it. Patients who have been subjected to injury and/or the additional pain and suffering of corrective surgery because of a retained surgical instrument have a right to pursue compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
What Retained Surgical Items Are Left Behind After Operations?
Sponges are the items most frequently left behind during surgery, while the abdomen is the most common location for a retained surgical instrument. Other retained surgical items that may be left inside patients are:
- Knife blades
- Safety pins
- Suction tips and tubes
What is the Most Common Retained Surgical Item Left Behind After Surgery?
The John Hopkins Institute found that surgical items are left inside of patients approximately 39 times a week. These medical mistakes are sometimes referred to as “never events” because they are so serious that medical professionals agree they should never occur during a surgery because they are completely preventable and are often dangerous to patients. Unfortunately, these kinds of mistakes do happen. And for our clients that have suffered from a retained surgical item, they typically cause very severe and often life threatening health complications.
According to data from medical studies, the most common surgical item left behind after a procedure is the surgical sponge. Because the sponges are designed to soak up fluid, they often become bloody and red and can easily blend in with the internal anatomy of a patient. Additionally, they can sometimes become hidden behind internal anatomy within the body cavity. If proper procedures are not followed, they can become easily forgotten by medical staff.
Once the patient is closed up after surgery, the sponge is like a ticking time bomb of infection waiting to happen. Patients who suffer from these retained surgical sponges are often beleaguered by life-threatening infection from within and they only have a small window of time to get medical attention. Once they have sought medical attention, radiological scans such as x-rays can be used to find the retained item and they then must undergo surgery a second time, leading to additional costs, as well as the opportunity for more infection and the other inherent risks involved in any surgery. Sometimes the corrective surgery involves removing entire sections of intestine or colon and can lead to disabling conditions that can affect a patient for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately these events can be entirely prevented by following proper medical protocol. Several medical facilities have adopted the use of bar coded or RF (radio frequency) tagged surgical instruments including sponges. This ensures that after the surgery, all items can be accounted for without resorting to a simple counting which is very susceptible to human error, especially during emergency procedures.
Why Do Retained Surgical Instrument Errors Occur?
Surgeons and members of a surgical team should have established procedures such as checklists or counts to track sponges, surgical instruments and other materials used during a procedure. However, these procedures must be followed to be effective.
The risk of a retained surgical instrument is greater if medical professionals:
- Ignore procedure – Counts should be made at the start and finish of procedures. Electronic tracking systems are now available to help doctors and nurses keep track of items such as sponges. However, a surprisingly low number of medical facilities employ this technology.
- Deviate from procedure – This may occur if hasty decisions are made because of complications during a procedure or if surgical teams are assembled quickly for emergency surgery.
- Communicate poorly – Personnel must be properly trained in procedure and to communicate with one another. In lengthy procedures, for example, teams of technicians and nurses may rotate in and out of surgery.
Seeking Compensation for Retained Surgical Instrument Injuries
Surgeons and other medical professionals have a legal duty to provide a recognized standard of care to their patients. Leaving a surgical instrument inside a patient’s body and requiring the patient to undergo additional surgery to have it removed is a medical error that should never occur.
Victims of such mistakes are eligible to be compensated for the costs of additional surgery, hospitalization and medication. They also deserve compensation for their pain and suffering, lost income during their recovery period and any other loss related to this medical error.
This is why it is crucial to have one’s case carefully reviewed by an experienced medical malpractice attorney and qualified medical experts.
In the course of the investigation, the attorney may identify the doctor, nurse and other medical professionals who should be held responsible for the retained surgical instrument error. In some instances, the hospital or clinic may be liable for failing to adopt or enforce procedures that should ensure an accurate count of surgical instruments and protect patients.
Contact a Retained Medical Item Malpractice Attorney Serving St. Louis Today!
If you or your loved one has been injured by a retained medical instrument or other items left behind after surgery, a medical malpractice lawyer from Sansone & Lauber can help you.
We will thoroughly investigate the harm you or your loved one has suffered and develop a full accounting of your losses. We can determine all parties that should be held liable for your injury and pursue full compensation on your behalf. Throughout the life of your case, we will make sure you are kept fully informed.
We investigate medical errors and assist clients from all over Missouri and Illinois on a contingency-fee basis. We will not charge you anything unless we obtain compensation for you. Please contact us today by phone or online to get started on your case.
Sources / More Information
- Retained Surgical Items, Nothing Left Behind
- Retained Surgical Items and Minimally Invasive Surgery, World Journal of Surgery
- Risk Factors for Retained Instruments and Sponges after Surgery, The New England Journal of Medicine
- Preventing Unintended Retained Foreign Objects, Joint Commission