Firm Logo

Preventing Surgical Instruments from Being Forgotten Inside Patients

By: Anapol Weiss

A surgical object mistakenly left inside a patient is a medical emergency that can lead to death or permanent health problems. Shockingly, surgical instruments are left inside patients thousands of times every year in the United States.

Surgical sponges account for nearly 70 percent of items left inside patients. Other items commonly found on post-op X-rays include: retractors, sharp objects such as needles, blades and scalpels, towels and other textiles, clamps, guide wires, scissors and more. Surgical items left in patients can perforate or obstruct tissue and organs, and they can lead to severe infections and inflammation. Aside from the serious medical dangers of a foreign object inside a person’s body, a second surgery to remove the item comes with risks.

What can hospital staff do to prevent these mistakes? The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) has developed guidelines that recommend the following:

  • Incorporating formal training programs to support open communication among team members and an environment conducive for prevention

  • Instituting a “no-interruption zone” to ensure accurate counting of surgical instruments and limit distractions

  • Employing consistent, standardized counting methods

  • Accounting for countable items and inspecting instruments for damage and fragments

  • Reconciling count discrepancies immediately

What can patients do? Before having surgery, ask the surgeon if they utilize Radio Frequency (RF) technology to prevent retained surgical items. RF involves special pads and wands that detect tiny tags or implants in sponges and gauze so that they can be scanned. That way everyone knows the patient is free of surgical items when they leave the operating room.

Patient harm caused by retained surgical objects is entirely preventable, but it continues to happen. Victims and their families are urged to speak up to not only hold responsible parties accountable, but also to stop these mistakes from threatening the well-being of more patients.

We can help if a loved one passed away or had to undergo a second surgery after a surgical item was left inside his or her body. Our experienced team can investigate the situation and answer any legal questions you may have.