Each year there are more than 28 million surgeries performed in the United States. While the majority of these surgeries are performed safely, there is an estimated 1,500 of them that result in cases where surgical instrument or tool has been negligently left inside the patient’s body after the surgery has been completed. These objects can include sponges, surgical gauze, cotton, pins, clips, and blades. The surgical team is supposed to ensure that no objects are left in the patient’s body by keeping an inventory of all the items used during the surgery.
There are safety checks in every operating room to help insure that sponges are not left behind. Nurses count sponges prior to and after the surgery and if the numbers do not match an x-ray machine is brought in to take a picture to make sure nothing is left inside the patient. Since every surgical sponge and cloth has a metallic thread it shows up on an x-ray machine.
A new and potentially more efficient way to help keep inventory has been developed and has begun to be utilized in some hospitals. These hospitals are using surgical sponges that have a built-in microchip. After every surgery a wand is waved over the patient to see if a microchip is detected. If the wand senses a microchip it beeps to alert the surgeon that there may be a sponge still inside the patient. This could help make it unnecessary to use the x-ray machine, giving immediate information and saving time.
When a sponge is left inside a patient it could be detected prior to discharge or it could go undetected for months or even years. Foreign objects left in the body may cause infections, scar tissue, excessive pain, and abscess. In some of these cases corrective surgery is required to remove the object. Therefore it is very important that doctors determine whether an object has been left behind in the patient. However if a patient knows or suspects a foreign object has been left in their body after surgery they should consult a legal professional to assess their situation.
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