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
Surgeons Leave Sponges in Patients 6K Times a Year
A nurse begins training on a new FDA-approved radio-frequency detection system for tracking and locating surgical sponges.   (Associated Press)

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. (More surgery stories.)

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