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Sponges left inside surgery patients despite new technology

Every year, thousands of patients suffer after surgeons leave items in their bodies. Leaving surgical items in a patient's body is known as a retained surgical item and it can be very dangerous for patients.

The most common type of retained surgical item left inside a patient's body after surgery are cotton sponges that surgeons use during the operation to soak up blood. These sponges are supposed to be removed before closing up the body but unfortunately, sometimes the sponges are left behind without the patient or surgeon knowing until the patient's health is effected months or years later.

Many patients who have surgical sponges left inside their body suffer from pain, digestive disorders and infections. The complications caused by these sponges can continue for the rest of the patient's life and it can even lead to their death.

Hospitals are not required by the federal government to report how often sponges or other surgical items are left inside patients. Research and government studies estimate that it happens between 4,500 and 6,000 times a year and that sponges are the item left inside patients most often, with two-thirds of all retained surgical items being attributed to sponges.

What can be done to stop retained surgical items from being left inside hospital patients? Surprising, these incidences can be prevented quite easily using electronic technology that tracks sponges and other surgical items during operations to make sure nothing is left inside a patient.

Despite the benefits of using this new technology, only 15 percent of hospitals in the U.S. currently use it. A report showed that using a sponge-tracking system in operating rooms would only increase the cost of an operation by $8 to $12. While this is a relatively low cost, many hospitals have not seen the benefits of using this technology and have not implemented a tracking system to prevent these errors from happening.

Surgery patients should understand the risks they face before having surgery and know that they can seek legal action against a hospital and doctor for mistakes and errors that lead to their health suffering. Patients who have been harmed by a hospital or surgical error should consult a medical malpractice attorney to discuss their case.

Source: USA Today, "What surgeons leave behind costs some patients dearly," Peter Eisler, March 8, 2013

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