Hospitals Slow to Implement Technology To Help Prevent Retained Objects During Surgery

It happens all too often: a patient wakes up from surgery to be advised all has gone well. But then weeks, months and sometimes years later, the patient starts experiencing symptoms such as pain or vomiting which do not seem to be related to any trauma or illness.   Doctors can find no explanation for the symptoms and, in some cases, the patient is treated as if the problem is in their head. Only after the symptoms become acute or when the patient and doctor are relentless in their search for an answer is the real culprit revealed: a retained object from the surgery. 

Retained objects come in many forms including scalpels, clamps, scissors, tubing, needles. But, the most common is sponges which account for about two-thirds of all retained objects. The most common method for tracking sponges is a simple manual count. But clearly, that old-fashioned method is not effective as it should be because each year roughly 4,000 cases of retained surgical items are reported in this country. 

Technology exists which is much better at preventing retained object cases. Sponges can be tracked through the use of a radio-frequency tag. The tag itself is tiny — roughly the size of a grain of rice and is embedded in each sponge. At the end of the surgery, the system can detect if any sponges were forgotten inside the patient. In a study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this system prevented 23 sponges being left in surgical patients over the course of just 11 months. And the cost for this added patient security? About $10.00 per procedure. The additional time to use the system before closing the patient? About 12 seconds.

The other tracking system involves bar codes. Each sponge has a bar code. Before the sponge is used, it is scanned. And then at the end of the surgery, the used sponges are scanned again. The system will alert the surgical team if any sponges are missing.  

Although both the American College of Surgeons and the Association of Operating Room Nurses have both urged hospitals to incorporate this technology, many hospitals continue to risk patient care by using the old manual count method. In fact, it has been estimated that only 1 percent of hospitals use electronic tracking technology to prevent retained objects cases.  The decision not to use this technology continues to put patients at risk for harm that could easily be avoided.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of negligence in the form of a retained object during surgery, one of our award-winning attorneys are here to help you get the compensatory damages you deserve.   Contact us online or call us any time at 615-742-4880 or toll-free at 866-812-8787 for free, no-obligation consultation of your case. We handle all medical malpractice cases on a contingency basis so we only get paid if we win.