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Retained foreign objects leading cause of surgical errors

Medical errors in surgery happen far more often than most people think. In fact, according to a study out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, surgical errors happen on average more than 4,000 time per year in the U.S. Common surgical errors include wrong-site surgeries, infection, and incidents involving surgical instruments or other surgical materials left mistakenly inside of a patient.

In support of the Johns Hopkins study, KUOW in Washington recently reported that about 30 times a year in Washington a hospital leaves a sponge or surgical instrument inside a patient. The report went on to note that in 2012 patients in the area wound up with a variety of objects left behind post-surgery, including wire fragments, sponges, retractors, plastic tubing, catheter tips and endoscope tips, among many other items.

While surgeons often work with any number of small, specialized instruments the most common item that is left behind in patients are sponges or towels. According to experts, one reason for this is because even simple surgical procedures require dozens of sponges that become soaked in blood, blending in with the patient's tissue. Unfortunately, such a simple medical mistake can result in deadly infections that can kill a patient.

While medical practitioners insist that such events are uncommon and rare, when compared to the actual number of surgeries performed each year, surgical errors involving retained foreign objects still occur far too often. It is also important for patients to know that if they are injured or suffer an infection because a doctor leaves something behind, this act may constitute medical malpractice. Injured patients could be entitled to monetary damages.

Source: KUOW, "Sponges, Tools And More Left Inside Washington Hospital Patients," John Ryan, August 01, 2013

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