Surgical Sponges Left in Patients – A Preventable Problem

Twelve times a day, a surgeon sews up a patient with a surgical sponge or other object left in the patient’s body.  It is one of the most common types of surgical malpractice.  These implanted objects cause infection, and even death, but many hospitals are ignoring technology that would virtually eliminate the problem. Peter Eisler of the USA Today reported that fewer than 600 hospitals of the 4,200 surgical hospitals in the United States have implemented technology that can detect and account for sponges before the patient is sewed up.    These sponge-tracking systems use either bar codes or radio-frequency detection systems to ensure that these surgical items are all accounted for before the surgery is complete.  The technology costs only $8 to $12 per surgery, but many hospitals are not implementing the technology because of cost concerns.  When a hospital ignores state of the art technology, and a patient is injured, a medical malpractice case typically follows. Given that the malpractice lawsuits which arise from this type of surgical blunder costs the hospitals an average of far more than $100,000 per case, it would seem to be a no-brainer to implement the technology.  Based on current estimates, a sponge or other surgical object is lost in anywhere from one in 5,500 to one in 7,000 surgeries.  At a cost of less than $12 per surgery, this risk could be eliminated for less than $84,000 per error.  But many hospitals budgeting and accounting systems put the cost of the technology on the surgical department’s budget, while the savings would be realized in the hospital’s legal department budget. If you have been the victim of this type of surgical blunder, and have suffered the devastating consequences simply because a short-sighted medical facility wanted to save a few bucks, the medical malpractice lawyers at Powers Taylor can help.  Even with the tort reforms implemented in Texas that protect negligent and careless doctors,  these types of cases are worth pursuing.


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