What kind of objects do surgeons leave inside patients?Any doctor will tell you that any surgery is serious. Even the simplest procedures have risk factors that include patient health, surgical skill, infection and more. One factor that nobody expects is the risk of leaving a surgical object inside a patient, but it happens more often than many residents of North Carolina may think.
According to ThoughtCo., it occurs to 4,500-6,000 patients each year across the U.S. Some objects may seem harmless, such as surgical sponges. Others can be deadly, like scissors and scalpels. But a sponge left behind can cause infection. Sharp cutting tools can cause internal bleeding. Other dangers include organ damage, obstructions and severe pain, which mean longer hospitalizations and more surgeries to retrieve objects and mend any damage. It could also mean death for some patients.
Real cases illustrating the problem include the following examples:
- California surgeons left a clamp inside a man during intestinal surgery. The metal clamp, six inches long, was hidden behind the liver. It happened again to the same man during another surgery.
- A two-inch scalpel was found in the abdomen of a man after heart surgery.
- A Wisconsin hospital left behind a 13-inch retractor in a patient’s abdomen following cancer surgery.
- A woman undergoing uterine cancer surgery was left with a pair of surgical scissors inside her.
- The surgery team left a glove inside another woman during a hysterectomy.
Why do things like this happen? In part due to the sheer number of instruments a surgeon uses, which can be more than 250 different pieces to complete a single procedure. Sponges used to absorb blood take on the look of the patient’s own tissue. Obese patients, unexpected occurrences during surgery and the patient’s need for multiple procedures are additional risk factors.
The good news is that the medical industry is working to prevent these errors. Some hospitals have adopted the practice of using bar-coded sponges. Like grocery items, sponges are scanned when they go into the body and again when they come out to reduce the chance of counting errors. Other hospitals are using radio-frequency tags in surgical sponges and towels, which are detectable by x-ray and can, therefore, be removed while the patient is still in the operating room.
These new tracking methods have shown great results, hospitals report, and have reduced the number of such errors. Even so, these changes are hardly universal and will continue to carry the greatest risk of all—human error.
This article offers general information and should not be taken as legal advice.