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Medical Malpractice

Are You the Victim of a Retained Surgical Sponge?

November 17, 2016

How likely is it that somebody had a surgical sponge left in them after surgery, and what are the risk factors?

When New Yorkers undergo a surgical procedure, they have the right to expect that they will be given top-quality care. However, this does not always occur. Doctors and nursing staff are human and therefore, they are prone to making mistakes during surgery. Some errors, though, are so obvious that they should never occur. One example is the problem with retained surgical sponges.

The Prevalence of Leftover Sponges After Surgery

According to The New York Times, prior to the procedure beginning, and to closing the surgical site, medical staff will perform a manual count of these sponges. Measuring 4 inches by 4 inches, it is not uncommon for doctors to use dozens of them during a single operation to soak up bodily fluids and blood inside the operation cavity. This can make it challenging for nursing staff to locate and remove all of them before the surgical site is closed. It is estimated that 4,000 surgical items, the majority of them sponges, are retained in U.S. patients every year.

Risk Factors Increasing the Likelihood that a Surgical Sponge will be Left Behind

The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety recognizes that some factors can greatly increase the likelihood that a surgical sponge will be left in a patient. One of these is surgery performed in the abdominal area. The following list includes some other risk factors:

  • If a procedure has taken a long time.
  • Emergency operations have a nine times higher risk than operations planned ahead of time.
  • If multiple teams were performing the surgery, or the surgery involved more than one procedure.
  • A complication occurs during the procedure or the procedure needs to be changed.
  • The patient is overweight.

One of the biggest problems is the manual counting method and cavity sweeps that hospital staff relies on. Studies have shown that "80 percent of retained sponges occur with what staff believes is a correct count."

Possible Solutions to Surgical Sponge Errors Are Mostly Ignored

Some hospitals are now using improved counting methods to prevent these errors from occurring. USA Today states that one method is the use of tracking technology. After one hospital installed a system, staff report that there has not been one case where a surgical sponge was left behind. The sponges are basically fitted with a tracking device. A detection wand is then used to scan the entire surgical site. If there is a sponge still inside, a beeping sound alerts staff.

However, even though the technology has been proven effective, out of almost 4,200 hospitals in the country, less than 600 have installed such systems. This puts thousands of patients at risk of suffering serious infections that can leave them permanently scarred and struggling with lifelong issues.

Victims of retained surgical objects have the right to pursue financial compensation. Therefore, they may want to consult with a lawyer who can explain to them the legal process and help them start putting together their claim.

If you or a family member were — or suspect you were — the victim of a forgotten surgical object, we invite you to contact the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm. Our New York surgical malpractice attorneys have helped many clients get their questions answered and get compensation from negligent medical personnel. All consultations with us are free, call 212-869-3500 to speak to with an attorney.