Surgeons Leave Objects in Patients 6K Times a Year
USA Today investigation finds that it happens a dozen times a day
By Mark Russell, Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2013 2:43 PM CST
A nurse begins training on a new FDA-approved radio-frequency detection system for tracking and locating surgical sponges.   (Associated Press)

(Newser) – Leaving sponges and other objects in patients after surgery is supposed to never happen—but it does, with surprising frequency. More than a dozen objects are mistakenly left inside surgical patients every day in America, or around 4,500 to 6,000 times a year, reports USA Today. That's double government estimates. The mistakes happen in about 1 in 5,500 or 7,000 surgeries, but with 32 million surgeries a year, they quickly add up, often resulting in infections, serious complications, and even death. "It's a recurrent, persistent and nearly totally avoidable problem," says one Harvard public health professor and surgeon.

What angers experts is that the problem is nearly completely solvable with cheap tracking technologies. Nearly 70% of incidents involve surgical sponges, and sponge tracking adds just $8 to $12 per operation, far less than the $150,000 cost of the average malpractice suit. However, the technology is used by only 15% of hospitals. One problem is that the symptoms of a forgotten object may not appear for months, plus hospital accounting procedures mean the savings from avoiding lawsuits don't show up in the bottom line. "At first, we had some skeptics (about the technology), but now people here would never want to do a surgery without it," said the director of operations at an Indianapolis hospital. Click for the full article.

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Mar 10, 2013 6:22 PM CDT
In the patient's (and the law's) eyes, the MD is responsible for the procedure, that includes the performance of his or team. I know from experience how difficult it is to keep track of just ONE item, sponges, because you may have two or three different personnel calling for them. In a fast-paced emergent situation, it can become almost chaotic. The MD is not always to blame, but has the deep pockets. Tertiary personnel are WAY overworked, as are many Residents and heels-on-the-ground Nurses. Too many butts-in-the-chair Nurses in my opinion. Everyone's a chief and no indians.
Mar 9, 2013 9:19 PM CST
hire more surgical techs. They're the ones responsible for equipment prep and counts. Over work them until they're to dizzy to see straight and they make mistakes, plain and simple.
Mar 9, 2013 7:10 AM CST
I get it now. If I pay the 8 to 12 dollars more they won't leave sponges inside me. Seems like giving them more money that we don't have solves all the problems.