You’ve probably heard the phrases “leaving something behind” or “putting yourself into your work,” right? These phrases suggest going the extra mile, and they’re something that many of us strive to do in our personal and professional lives. The phrase takes an odd twist, however, if you work in surgery and the thing you’re leaving behind is a surgical instrument inside your patient’s body.
It sounds like something that isn’t all that common, almost as if it springs from the pages of a cheap novel or some obscure newspaper in a third-world country. But, as terrifying as it is, surgeons’ leaving something inside a patient’s body is not as rare as you might think. In fact, studies suggest that – brace yourself – your average hospital is host to this sort of event twice every year. In total, between 3,000 to 6,000 of these cases happen annually in the U.S.
That estimate is astonishing and raises several questions. Let’s start with…
What exactly are surgeons leaving inside patients?
The most common object accidentally left inside a patient’s body after surgery is a surgical sponge. These sponges are used to soak up blood during a surgery, and they account for around two-thirds of the objects left behind. Drill bit fragments and needles are two other items that might be left in a patient after a surgery.
How does this happen?
Not surprisingly, surgical objects are more likely to be left in a patient during emergency surgeries. In these situations, multiple instruments and sponges might be used. Several members of a medical staff could be involved. An emergency surgery might also involve profuse bleeding, which then necessitates more sponges and makes it difficult for a staff to keep track.
How does leaving behind an object affect a patient?
It depends on the situation, but when a surgical object is left behind, it certainly carries the potential to be disastrous for the patient. Infections, organ perforations, obstructions and death can all be the result of these incidents.
Objects can also be very expensive to retrieve. A surgery to remove an object typically requires hospitalization. The average price of the removal process – including the surgery, hospitalization, etc. – is over $63,000. That doesn’t factor in other costs suffered by the patient, such as ongoing care, diminished quality of life, reduced work capacity or pain and suffering.
In some cases, these objects are left inside patients for months, or even years, before they are detected. It is only after complications like infections arise that their presence is brought to the attention of a doctor.
These mistakes are not only costly for patients, they are also tragic, because this type of mistake is preventable. By implementing certain precautions and setting the appropriate systems in place, these events could be dramatically reduced. Technology that allows medical staff to track objects used during surgery has proven to be effective in solving the problem, but many facilities haven’t invested in these measures.
We trust health care professionals to help us when we need it. At the very least, we expect that they will do no harm while providing us medical care. Yet, for the thousands of Americans who go into surgery and have an object left inside their body, this is simply not the case. Medical facilities should make fixing these entirely preventable problems a top priority.
For more information about this topic, or to discuss whether medical negligence may have played a role in your failing health or that of your loved one, call the Mann Law Firm at (478) 742-3381. We are committed to helping Georgians find justice after they become the victim of medical malpractice.