Forgotten surgical tools harm patients

Most patients who go through surgery breathe a sigh of relief once it's over and their recovery begins. But for some unlucky patients, their ordeal is far from over. When a surgeon accidentally leaves a piece of medical equipment inside someone once the operation is completed, the result can be pain, infection, additional surgery or sometimes even death. Last year, the New York Times reported on a woman who suffered painful complications in 2005 due to a sponge that was left inside her four years earlier. She was awarded $2.5 million dollars in her lawsuit, although the award was appealed.

A new report cites this case and others, revealing that almost 800 pieces of medical equipment were found inside patients between 2005 and 2012. Patients normally discover the problem once the tool shows up on X-rays or MRIs, often after they have been experiencing lingering problems. Tools are left in patients in a number of different situations, including in- and out-patient surgeries, but it is more common during emergency procedures.

The report, prepared by the Joint Commission, claims that hospital protocols and procedures are to blame for this problem. Sometimes adequate systems are not in place, and in other situations they are simply not followed. The Commission states that if protocols and compliance are improved, these surgical errors could be reduced by half. Hospitals pay an average of $166,000 for care of patients and in compensation every time a tool is left behind.

Not all hospitals are addressing the issue of tools being left behind, and patients anticipating surgery may wish to check their hospital's health report card, which lists these mistakes. Those who have been injured by medical errors could consult a medical malpractice attorney who may see if they are entitled to compensation.

Source: CBS News, "Nearly 800 surgical tools left in patients since 2005: Report", Ryan Jaslow, October 18, 2013

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