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Hospitals fined for errors during surgery

Surgery is a complicated event. Many mistakes can happen during a surgery, but there are some mistakes that would seem to defy logic.

Doctors and nurses in hospitals in Maryland and throughout the U.S. have been known to leave things like gauze, sponges and scalpels inside of patients during surgery. These surgical errors can lead to lawsuits brought by the patients who were injured due to medical malpractice.

One hospital in California was recently fined $100,000 for leaving a pin inside of a patient during an operation.

The pin was found after a second surgery 12 hours later. The patient had been having trouble breathing and complained of pain and difficulty swallowing. The physician had to review three X-rays after the scheduled operation before finally discovering that the pin was the reason for the continued complications.

The pin left inside of the patient is known in medical jargon as a retained surgical item. A retained surgical item is any surgical tool that is left inside of a patient after an operation. Even though doctors and nurses are supposed to count all surgical items and tools before closing up a patient, this method has led to mistakes. Something the operating room staff thought was accounted for often ends up being left inside a patient.

One way for doctors and nurses in the operating room to track all surgical items is through radio technology. Radio frequency tags can be placed on all tools, including gauze, so that radio waves can be used to account for each item and surgical tool.

The use of radio tags is one way to use technology other than X-rays, which will not find materials like gauze left inside of a patient. The hope is that this new technology may lower the number of injuries resulting from surgical errors and help keep hospitals and doctors accountable for patient safety, health and well-being once an operation is complete.

Sources: Sign On San Diego, "State Fines Scripps Memorial for Surgery Error," Janet Lavelle, Dec. 8, 2011

ASC Review, "Understanding and Preventing Retained Surgical Items: Q&A With Dr. Jeffrey Port of RF Surgical Systems," Rob Kurtz, Dec. 6, 2011

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