There are about 2,000 patients every year in the United States who have had surgical material accidently left in their bodies during operations. The most common object left behind is the surgical sponge, though doctors have been known to leave needles, gauze, and other types of instruments inside patients.
In a recent study researchers estimated that on average surgeons leave surgical material inside patients thirty-nine times a week. Though this seems like a high number, given how many operations are performed in the United States every day, it is very rare for surgeons to accidently leave surgical materials inside patients.
The problem of leaving surgical material behind often occurs because of the lack of effective practices to prevent such errors in hospitals. The practices of both the doctors and nurses need to be addressed, otherwise nothing will change.
For example, about eighty percent of the times there is a sponge left behind the team in the operating room declared that the count was correct. Since people can make counting errors, hospitals should focus creating ways for them to know when all the sponges have been accounted for at all times. One way to account for all the sponges would be to have a sort of bar code on all the sponges and to scan them before and after surgery.
When a sponge or other surgical material is left behind patients may not realize there is a problem for week, months, or possibly even years. Doctors usually only discover a sponge once there is infection or a mass has developed around it. In one case where the patient had surgery to repair a kidney that was damaged from a gunshot wound, a sponge was left behind and not discovered until three years later.
A second operation was required to remove the sponge. The hospital that performed the first surgery has since instituted a new “team approach” to counting the surgical sponges and other instruments prior to and after each procedure. The hospital reports that there has not been an incident of objects left behind since.
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