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Surgeons leaving sponges behind, part 1

Georgia patients expect that that their surgeon and the surgical team have covered every aspect of a surgery, including cleanup. However, sometimes items, such as surgical sponges, are accidentally left inside the patient. When this occurs, it is referred to as a retained surgical item.

Part of the problem is the fact that mistakes are made in the counting process. According to The New York Times, manual counts of sponges are held prior to the surgery and then again before the surgery is concluded. However, due to the fact that these sponges are about 4 inches by 4 inches, and they are filled with blood, they can be difficult to spot. Roughly two-thirds of the items surgeons forget are sponges and most errors involve patients who are overweight. The other third involves items such as scissors and scalpels.

Retained surgical items are a larger problem than the average person would imagine. USA Today says that every year people die in 2 percent of the estimated 4,500 to 6,000 cases of errors concerning retained items. Additionally, the reporting of medical errors by states that require it – only about half – equal to just 1 percent of the actual mistakes that are being made. These errors include retained surgical items.   

Complications from retained items often don’t appear for months or even years after surgery, making it difficult for medical staff to identify them as the source of the issue. The costs of fixing problems stemming from lost surgical sponges can be high, ranging to $60,000 and above. Despite how widespread retained surgical items are, hospitals have done little to make sure there are fewer incidents.

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