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High-tech sponges only a start for reducing surgery errors

Colorado readers may be interested in a report released on March 25 that says that leaving objects behind in a patient following surgery is one of the most common surgical errors. An analysis revealed that approximately 2,024 medical malpractice claims are filed each year for this type of surgery mistake.

The report says that the most common object left behind is a sponge. Counting the sponges as they went into a patient was the primary way of tracking and accounting for them during surgery. However, the report revealed that about 10 to 15 percent of the time, the sponges were incorrectly counted. In order to reduce the risk of leaving one in a patient, some companies have started to install barcodes on sponges and use electronic counters. Some companies produce sponges that can even be scanned when they are blood-soaked.

The Joint Commission, a nonprofit group that accredits health care providers based on quality standards, thinks that a major shift inside both the hospital operating rooms and executive suites is required before there will be a significant reduction in the number of surgical errors. The commission compares the health profession with the aviation industry, which has a much higher expectation level of no errors. Another step to eradicating errors would be for workers at all levels to be encouraged to bring a surgery mistake forward once they become aware of it.

When an object such as a sponge is left inside a patient following surgery, his or her condition may worsen. In those cases, the patient may be eligible to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the liable surgeon, operating room staff or medical facility. The patient may be reimbursed for any additional medical care expenses that resulted from the initial surgery mistake.

Source: Bloomberg, "Can Technology Stop Surgeons From Leaving Sponges Inside Patients?", John Tozzi, March 25, 2014

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