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Surgical errors: The commonality of "never events"

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, never events are mistakes that are considered unacceptable.
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    February 08, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Today surgeons in Cook County are able to perform the most delicate procedures thanks to advancements in modern medicine. However, despite the skills of these medical professionals, they are human and mistakes can occur. One category of the errors that happen is referred to as "never events."

Surgical never events

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, never events are mistakes that are considered unacceptable. Never events that fall under surgical errors include operating on the wrong side of the body, performing the wrong type of operation and leaving objects behind in the patient such as surgical instruments and sponges.

A study released in 2012 from Johns Hopkins revealed that never events occur on average about 4,000 times per year in the United States. The numbers were estimated after studies were conducted on data relating to medical malpractice judgments issued from 1990 to 2010. In addition, researchers determined that at least 39 times each week, surgical staff leaves an object in a patient. Wrong site and wrong surgical procedures occur 20 times a week each.

Retained surgical items

USA Today states that the most common item left behind in patients are surgical sponges. Despite the fact that hospitals utilize a manual counting method to ensure that sponges and other items are accounted for before the operation site is closed, the number of these errors per year is between 4,500 and 6,000.

For the patients who are victims of such negligence, there are many complications that can arise, especially from sponges left in the body. These complications include:
- Infections.
- The need for additional surgeries.
- Digestive problems.
- Permanent disfigurement.
- Long periods of hospitalization.
- Permanent disability.

In addition to the physical complications that victims can experience, there are the mental and emotional scars that must also be addressed. One man, who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit after losing a large portion of his intestines from complications with retained sponges, stated that he still struggles emotionally. The infection and damage caused by the sponges has left him unable to enjoy activities he once participated in.

Hospitals ignore tracking technology

In recent years, technology has been used to create tracking systems for surgical sponges to address the problem. The system generally consists of sponges that are embedded with tracking chips. When a detection device is moved over the patient, the sponges inside the body send a signal, alerting medical staff to their presence.

One health campus in Indiana decided to implement this technology in their three hospitals after seeing a rise in retained surgical sponges. Since the campus started using the system five years ago, there has not been one sponge retention error made. However, despite the success of such technology, hospitals seem reluctant to use it, citing concerns over the costs associated with installing it. Less than 600 hospitals and surgical centers have purchased the technology.

While hospitals seem unwilling to spend money on tracking technology, it is important for them to consider what can happen when patients are the victims of such errors. Victims and their families should meet with an experienced attorney to understand what their legal rights are.

Article provided by Salvi & Maher, L.L.C.
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