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Surgical Items Negligently Left in the Body Can Be Medical Malpractice

The Lancione Law Firm

Few, if any, people face any type of surgery without some degree of stress. Of all the worst-case scenarios that might run through a patient’s head – from the surgeon removing the wrong organ to a post-surgical infection – discovering that a surgical instrument has been left inside his or her body can be among the most painful and traumatizing.

Sponges Are the Most Common Item Found Inside Patients’ Bodies

In the medical world, surgical items being left in patients’ bodies is called a “never event” – meaning it is never supposed to happen. Unfortunately, a significant number of patients leave surgery each year with a surgical item, sponge or other medical instrument left inside their bodies..

According to USA Today, items are left in patients up to a dozen times per day. Sponges are the most common objects found in patients, making up approximately 70 percent of lost surgical items. Needles and other surgical instruments are also commonly lost inside patients. Needles make up less than 10 percent of lost items, while instruments make up around five percent.

The Painful Consequences of Medical Errors

The consequences of leaving surgery with an object still inside the body are severe. Sponges are especially dangerous because patients may experience pain or discomfort for several years before the sponge is discovered. By this point, the affected area is usually infected. The complications are often permanent and may even result in death.

The root of the issue may be because there is no federal requirement mandating that hospitals report incidents of an item being left in a patient’s body. A 2012 study by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that hospitals report only one percent of the medical errors they are required to report. This is despite the fact that over half of the states require reporting of all medical errors. Additionally, losing items in a patient’s body is not a primary concern for hospitals. Activities such as controlling infections usually take higher priority.

If Items Are Not Found Initially, Proving Negligence May Be Difficult

According to Medicare data, the cost to a hospital for leaving an instrument in a patient’s body is approximately $60,000. However, this cost is minimal compared to the costs involved in a medical malpractice case filed by a patient, which can cost a hospital between $100,000 and $200,000 per case.

However, if items left in a patient’s body are not discovered until months or years later, it is difficult to trace the item back to the negligence of a specific hospital or doctor.

Leaving an item inside a patient’s body is a form of medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when a health care provider’s negligence results in treatment below the acceptable standard of care and causes harm to a patient.

To prove medical malpractice, a patient must show:

  • The doctor or hospital owed a duty of care to the patient.
  • The provider breached that duty of care.
  • The breach of the duty of care caused the patient’s injury.

Breach of the duty of care means that the medical treatment provided fell below the acceptable standard of care. A patient must also show the specific injury or harm caused by the hospital or doctor’s breach of the duty of care.

Proving medical negligence is difficult, especially when attempting to prove that the treatment provided fell below the appropriate care standard. Independent medical experts are often brought in to testify to the current established standard of care used throughout the medical field.

An individual injured by a hospital or doctor’s negligence needs an experienced medical malpractice attorney. The attorney can assist with reviewing all medical records and retaining independent medical experts to help prove each element of a medical malpractice claim. A qualified medical malpractice attorney can also provide valuable guidance and ensure that all appropriate compensation is received.


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