Study: Sponges Most Likely to Be Left Behind After Surgery

A new study suggests that sponges are the most likely to be left behind after a surgical procedure.

According to a recent study conducted by the American College of Surgeons, patients today still face the threat of an obvious but serious surgical error. Specifically, the study analyzed the problem of retained surgical objects, or when a surgical item is left in the patient after the surgery has been completed.

The study found that this type of surgical error happens significantly more often than one would expect for such an obvious mistake — about 7,000 times each year. According to the findings, each hospital in the United States encounters this type of error an average of twice per annum.

The study also looked at the types of surgical items that are typically left behind. It found that surgical sponges are the most likely to be left behind. This is perhaps unsurprising, since these sponges are typically very small and become colored with blood during procedures. As a result, they are easy to forget and can be difficult for the human eye to locate after the procedure. The study's findings said that sponges are more often left behind when during procedures involving the pelvis, vagina or thoracic cavity.

Although sponges are soft, unlike other surgical instruments, it does not mean that they are any less harmful. Sponges can attract bacteria and cause serious infections. Unless the mistake is realized soon, the infection can turn septic, spread to the blood and cause death.

The study's researchers suggested that all hospitals use radiofrequency technology (RF) to help reduce the times that sponges are left behind. RF technology works by implanting a small chip in each sponge used. Just before the procedure is finished, any unaccounted for sponges can be located by waiving a wand over the patient. From their review of data from hospitals that have already adopted this technology, the researchers determined that RF use leads to a 93 percent reduction rate in retained surgical objects.

An Attorney Can Help

Despite its effectiveness, RF technology is costly. Because of this, most hospitals still rely on human counts or X-rays to locate any left-behind item. Although less expensive, these tactics are much less effective and are prone to human error. The study noted that, although expensive, RF technology would pay for itself many times over, since patients suffering from the effects of retained surgical objects must be readmitted to the hospital for follow-up procedures about 30 to 59 percent of the time. RF technology would allow the hospital to significantly reduce the heavy expenses associated with this.

Unfortunately, despite the benefits, many hospitals only see costs in RF technology. As a result, they choose to favor profits over patient safety. Sadly, it is often the case that they change their minds only after having to pay for their mistake in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a surgical error, it is important to protect your right to compensation under the law. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can advise you further on your rights and work to hold the responsible parties accountable.