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Retention of surgical items an issue in medical procedures

Surgical items may be left behind in a patient’s surgical site during a procedure, and may cause serious infections or other issues.

When people go into the operating room, they place a great deal of trust in the surgical professionals who perform their procedure. Most patients hope to have a smooth surgery with little to no serious complications. However, an alarming number of patients in New York and across the country may leave the OR with more than they bargained for. Studies from John Hopkins University show that every week, at least 30 incidents occur where foreign objects are retained in the patient's surgical site. Not only can this cause immediate medical problems, but issues may arise years down the road.

How are items left behind?

Although a wide-range of medical equipment has been left within patients following a procedure, surgical sponges are the most common items left behind. These small gauze-like sponges are designed to soak up blood and fluids around the surgical site, making it easier for the surgeon to see actual point of operation. As these sponges soak up fluids, however, they could become hard to find. In some cases, the sponges can become disguised against a body organ, and may get sewn up inside the patient. While a small sponge may not seem dangerous to patients, they can become the cause of a major, life-threatening infections.

In one case, a woman developed crippling stomach pains four years after she had a hysterectomy. After undergoing screening tests, it was found that the surgeon had left a surgical sponge behind during the procedure. The sponge had grown onto the exterior walls of the abdomen and bladder, causing a massive infection. Surgeons had to remove a large part of the infected intestine, and as a result, the woman is unable to return to work. She also suffers from severe bowel problems.

Preventing surgical item retention

A traditional way of avoiding surgical item retention is simply counting the equipment before and after the procedure takes place. Before the incision is finished, all of the equipment must be accounted for. Yet, studies show that simply counting equipment can lead to mistakes, and items have been left within the body as a result.

Additional technology, including bar coding and radiofrequency tagging, has been developed to minimize the risk of retained surgical items. Although these methods are designed to make the counting process easier, research show that they may present problems with accounting for surgical equipment.

Finding answers to your questions

When surgeons or medical professionals act in a negligent manner, they should be held accountable for their actions. You may want to seek counsel from a medical malpractice attorney in New York who has experience handling these types of cases. You could receive compensation for your medical expenses, emotional trauma and lost wages from work.

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