What happens when a surgical instrument is left behind?

On Behalf of | Sep 9, 2020 | Medical Malpractice |

Surgical errors in Ohio and across the United States occur more often than you may care to think about. Although the surgical staff in the operating room are highly trained medical professionals, they are human and can make mistakes as well. 

According to John Hopkins, medical errors kill an estimated 250,000 people in the United States every year. Thousands of incidents involve problems that arise in the operating room, such as wrong site surgery and anesthesia mistakes. Yet, one of the most daunting errors may be those where surgical instruments are left behind within operating sites. 

What are retained surgical instruments?

Surgical staff accounts for all instruments before, during and after a procedure. However, some tools may get left behind within the surgical site, including forceps and clamps. Some of the most common retained objects are surgical sponges. These gauze-like items are used to soak up blood and interstitial fluid within the surgical cavity, making it easier to see the target of operation. Yet, as these sponges become soaked with bodily fluids, they can become hard to detect and actually blend in with their surroundings. 

What happens when items are missed?

In some cases, retained items are only discovered when a serious medical event occurs, sometimes years later. In one case, a giant surgical sponge was left within a woman’s abdominal cavity. The sponge resulted in a major infection and caused the woman’s bowels to shut down completely. 

While some medical institutions have adopted stricter procedures for counting surgical instruments, this egregious medical error still occurs on a daily basis throughout the U.S. 


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