Yet another article about medical malpractice appeared in my favorite newspaper yesterday. The New York Times reports, in an article titled, “When Surgeons Leave Objects Behind” that surgeons in the U.S. leave an estimated 4,000 “surgical items” inside their patients every year, the vast majority of which are surgical sponges used to soak up blood during the surgery. Clamps, scalpels, and even scissors are sometimes left inside, but two-thirds of the “forgotten” items are surgical sponges. Too often one or more of them end up on the wrong side of the stitches once the patient is sewn up. These can cause all kinds of complications and infections later on.
Leaving sponges inside the patient seems pretty lame. How can they make such a major screw up so often?
First, the sponges are pretty small (see the photo above), and lots of them go into a patient during surgery. In abdominal operations, for example, doctors often stuff dozens of them inside a patient to absorb blood. And many surgical teams (usually nurses) keep only a manual count of the sponges that go into a patient, and then recount the ones taken out to make sure the numbers match. But in a busy, long operation, people sometimes forget how many went in, or else miscount.
The article points out that there are better, higher tech ways of keeping track of them, for about an extra 10 dollars a sponge. One is a radio-frequency tag about the size of a grain of rice implanted in the sponge. Another is a tiny bar code on the sponge which is scanned on the way in and on the way out of the patient. But surprisingly few hospitals use these relatively cheap, very safe, methods. Talk about putting profit over safety . . . .
If you are getting surgery that will require the use of sponges, ask your surgeon whether the hospital uses these more sophisticated sponge counting methods. It if doesn’t, maybe you should shop around . . .
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Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com Central and Syracuse NY Medical Malpractice Lawyers Michaels & Smolak, P.C.