Hospitals Attempt to Reduce Retained Object Errors

One common type of medical error is known as a “retained object” error. This can occur when a surgeon or other health care provider leaves an object inside a patient. When an object stays inside a patient, several serious complications can arise, including death. These objects can be any type of surgical equipment. Probably the most common retained object is what is known as a “surgical sponge.” A sponge is basically a small piece of gauze that is used to clean wounds and absorb fluid during surgery.

According to a recent article in USA Today, research suggests that nationwide, between 4,500 and 6,000 surgeries per year have a retained object left inside the patient. Of those cases, 50 to 100 of them are fatal. A man in Florida recently received a six-figure medical malpractice settlement after several sponges were left inside him after an abdominal operation in 2006. The sponges became infected and necessitated the removal of several portions of his intestines. He spent several weeks in a medically induced coma while he was recovering and he will be fitted with a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.

Many hospitals recognize that this type of error should never happen. In fact, retained objects are what the federal government calls a “never event.” Some hospitals have begun to implement high-tech tracking systems to make sure all of the medical equipment used in a surgery is accounted for before the patient leaves the operating room. A company called Clear Count Medical Solutions has begun marketing a sponge count system known as The Smart Sponge System. This system uses RIFD-enabled sponges. A small tracking chip is implanted in the sponge. Surgeons then use an RIFD reader in the operating room that can track the physical location of every sponge. Earlier systems for sponge counting, including manual counting and bar-codes, have proven to be unreliable for sponges that are soaked with blood and hidden in the body, according to an executive with NXP Semiconductors, the company that provides the chips to Clear Count.

It is hoped that these new systems will save lives and provide a much better and safer hospital experience for patients. The new systems are expensive, however, so it remains to be seen if they will gain widespread adoption. The attorneys at The O’Keefe Firm are experienced in retained objects cases and will be happy to review your case if you feel you or a loved one has been harmed by a retained foreign object.

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