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Left-behind surgical tools could be prevented with new technology

As a patient, the last thing you want to find out is that you need to have another surgery because the one you had resulted in mistakes or tools being left behind in your body. You shouldn't have to be put through more pain and suffering because a surgical team wasn't on top of its game.

How often does this really happen? A May 6 report states that retained surgical instrument errors, which are instruments left in the body, take place around once every 5,500 surgeries. In most cases, at around 70 percent of the time, it's sponges that are left behind in the patient.

Surgical equipment like sponges or screws cost very little for the hospital to purchase, but when a surgeon leaves these items in a patient, the mistake costs the hospital thousands. According to one manufacturer, one case of surgical retention can cost a hospital and the related parties around $600,000 just in legal costs and for the corrective surgery required.

Why do items get left behind? Sponges, in particular, are easy to lose in the surgical cavities. They get soaked in blood and match the body, making it harder to find the sponges in the cavity. Now, item counts can help with this. Some companies now embed barcodes into their sponges so they can be tagged when they enter or leave a patient's body. This makes it easier to know which ones, if any, have been left behind. With the current count being 11 retained items in a day, these changes in technology could be a helpful way forward.

Source: Healthcare Finance News, "Damages from left-behind surgical tools top billions as systems seek end to gruesome errors," Jeff Lagasse, May 06, 2016

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