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Recent alert brings awareness of left-behind surgical objects

Although left-behind surgical instruments are a major threat to patient safety, hospitals have been slow to take measures to prevent this type of error.
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    December 11, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Recent alert brings awareness of left-behind surgical objects

Article provided by Mishkind Law Firm Co., L.P.A.
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The Joint Commission, which is a non-profit organization that accredits many healthcare programs at hospitals nationwide, recently issued an alert to bring awareness to one of the most egregious surgical errors--retained or left behind surgical objects. This type of surgical error occurs when any object, such as a surgical sponge, clamp, towel or other medical instrument, is lost, misplaced or forgotten during or at the end of surgery. Obviously, the reference to retained foreign object is unfair as the patient was presumably unconscious and did not retain anything.

According to the alert, this type of surgical error is very serious and happens more than most people realize. According to the Joint Commission, left-behind foreign objects were responsible for 16 deaths since 2005. In addition, this surgical error required 772 patients to extend their stay in the hospital because of complications over the past eight years.

Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that the Commission found that all cases of complications were voluntarily reported. This likely indicates that the actual number is much higher. How much higher is a subject of speculation, as there is no federal mandate for hospitals to report left-behind items. However, earlier this year, a USA Today review of medical malpractice lawsuit records, studies and statistics from the government estimated that left-behind objects occur around 4,500 to 6,000 times per year.

Why is the problem so widespread?

Lost, misplaced or left-behind surgical objects are an expensive type of medical error. According to the Joint Commission, each left-behind object can cost hospitals between $166,000 and $200,000 due to lost surgical fees, Medicare payments and legal fees. As a result, one would think that hospitals would have an incentive to prevent this type of error.

However, this is not the case, according to the Joint Commission's alert. The Commission found that when hospitals implement and enforce counting or other procedures to prevent objects from being left behind, the error rate decreases dramatically. However, in most hospitals, for whatever reason, the reality is that no such policies exist. In addition, there is often poor communication among the surgical staff during and after the procedure, which increases the risk of this type of error. Finally, there often is a culture in hospitals that discourages staff from speaking up about errors.

An attorney can help

Despite the relative ease and availability of technological solutions such as bar codes and radiofrequency tags for surgical instruments, many if not most hospitals have been recalcitrant in their attitudes towards change. As a result, it is likely that more surgical patients will continue to needlessly suffer. Unfortunately, it often takes medical malpractice lawsuits before hospitals take their duties of patient safety seriously.

If you have been a victim of this type of surgical error, compensation may be available for the pain and suffering, loss of normal enjoyment of life, disfigurement, lost wages and medical bills that you experience as a result. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can advise you on your claim and ensure that the responsible parties are held accountable for their negligence.

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