Surgical Instruments left Behind

An emergency or elective surgical procedure is a stressful life event. A patient’s hope is for a speedy and pain-free recovery with no complications. Unfortunately, in some cases of medical negligence, there can be significant surgical errors that result in prolonged hospital stays, additional surgeries, and sometimes death. One of many reasons that patients file medical malpractice lawsuits is for the unintended retention of surgical instruments. Despite the means available to prevent these occurrences, foreign objects staying behind after surgery continue to be a significant problem. When medical personnel inadvertently leave surgical tools or sponges in patients, it can result in various health issues or fatalities. Surgical instruments may be left behind due to human error, distractions, or unexpected emergencies during surgery. Some retained surgical instruments can go undetected for years if they cause no problems and may be discovered by accident.

Some Examples of Medical Negligence Cases of Retained Surgical Instruments are:

  • In Seattle, Washington, a cancer patient complained of abdominal pain, which was undiagnosed. A metal detector at an airport found a thirteen-inch metal instrument that had been left inside his abdomen during surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center.
  • A veteran required additional surgery to remove his prostate gland when a Veterans Affairs hospital in Connecticut left a scalpel handle inside his abdomen during surgery.
  • In another case, a Philadelphia woman had a 15-inch square towel left in her stomach cavity for three weeks following abdominal surgery. The physician had used it to wipe his hands.
  • A 21-inch guide wire was left in a surgical patient and went undetected for 61 days. The patient developed an infection and subsequently died.

Approximately 70% of surgical items left behind are gauze pads, also known as sponges. Other surgical tools left inside patients include scalpels, scissors, towels, drain tips, needles, guide wires, clamps, surgical gloves, tubes, and forceps.

The Effects of Retained Surgical Items

Patients can experience life-threatening infections, an inflammatory response, fevers, swelling, digestive issues, internal damage, pain, or obstruction of internal organs. Consequences are pain and suffering, subsequent surgeries, or prolonged hospital stays and treatment, causing emotional distress and costly financial burdens for the patient and the health care system. Often, these victims of medical negligence must obtain a medical malpractice attorney to seek compensation for medical bills and lost wages resulting from their injuries.

The New England Journal of Medicine published medical research conducted by a practicing surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. In that study, Dr. Atul Gawande reported a 900% increase in risk for retained surgical items in high-stress circumstances, such as uncontrolled bleeding during surgery. During times of crisis, surgical teams are intently working to save a patient’s life. They may inadvertently overlook items left within the surgical site.

What Interventions are Available to Eliminate these Errors?

In 2015, the Association of Operating Room Nurses recommended that instrument and sponge manual counts be performed at least five times during a procedure. The invention of sponge tracking devices to replace the manual counting of sponges is effective but costly. One technology uses barcodes to track each of the sponges in the surgical area. Another technology uses RFID tags on each sponge, and a scanner registers the number of sponges to ensure patient safety. However, many hospitals have not implemented the latest technology due to the cost. The use of x-ray technology following surgery can find other types of surgical instruments left behind.

Badgley Law Group holds Surgeons Accountable for Medical Errors

The consequences of retained surgical instruments may manifest in different forms immediately after surgery or years later. A surgeon has a duty of care and is expected to follow proper protocols and provide reasonable care. If surgical teams breach that duty and it results in harm, the patient is entitled to compensation for damages. The Badgley Law Group fights for victims of medical malpractice. As a board-certified Civil Trial Lawyer, Attorney Jeffrey Badgley is an expert in personal injury law. He is a caring and compassionate advocate for patients suffering from the negligence of medical professionals.

Call us at our Orlando, Florida office for a free consultation at 407-759-6355. Your case deserves the attention of a law firm with the highest levels of professionalism, skill, and integrity.

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