Retained surgical items are a leading cause of malpractice claims

On Behalf of | Dec 14, 2020 | Medical Malpractice

One cause of medical malpractice claims is when a patient finds out that a surgeon has left an item behind inside them after a surgery. Items that don’t belong inside the patient following a surgery should never be left behind inside them, but it does happen.

There are a couple reasons why surgeons or their staff could leave items behind. For example, one team member may put down a tool while exchanging positions, and that tool could be hidden inside the body due to movement. In other cases, surgical sponges could fill with blood and be hard to locate and counts of items taken out of the body could be mistaken.

What can surgical teams do to prevent leaving items behind after surgery?

To prevent such a serious problem from happening, the team needs to have good communication. For example, when a tool is used, it should be announced or tagged in a way that its use can be tracked. If a sponge is placed, the number of sponges used should be added together, so they can all be removed. In some cases, surgical sponges are “intelligent,” and have barcodes. Those need to be scanned before they’re placed into the body and then again once they’re removed.

How common is it to find an item left behind in a patient?

In one survey, it was estimated that there were 1.43 retained surgical item events for every 10,000 surgical procedures. Most commonly, it was a sponge that was retained inside the patient’s body, which could lead to infection, discomfort and the need for another surgery in the future.

What should patients do if they discover that items have been left behind inside them following a surgery?

If a patient discovers that an item was left behind and has caused medical problems or the need for an additional surgery, they should consider looking into their legal options. Leaving behind tools inside a patient is unacceptable, and though this kind of malpractice is relatively common, it’s not something that should be ignored or brushed over. The medical provider, hospital or facility should take responsibility for the errors.