Leaving Foreign Objects in Patients is a Bigger Problem than It Should Be

Leaving a foreign object inside a patient after surgery is one of the most preventable types of medical mishaps. Yet it happens more often than it should. According to the Joint Commission, a non-profit that accredits and certifies more than 20,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States, in the past seven years they have received 770 reports of these occurrences.

Approximately 95 percent of these events necessitated additional medical care and/or a longer hospitalization. And 16 of these incidents resulted in death. Because of the serious consequences, the Joint Commission is urging surgical centers and hospitals to increase their efforts in avoiding these needless mistakes. 

The most common items left inside patients are: 

  • soft materials (sponges and towels);
  • stapler components;
  • broken parts of instruments; and
  • needles.  

Risk Factors for Leaving Foreign Objects inside a Patient

Recognizing the risk factors and taking steps to improve patient safety could avoid this type of surgical mistake. The circumstances surrounding the procedure may be an indication of the increased risk.

For instance, it’s nine times more likely to happen when it’s an emergency surgery, according to the Joint Commission. It is four times more likely when there is an unexpected change in the procedure.

Other risk factors include: 

  • overweight patients;
  • staff turnover during the procedure;
  • multiple surgical teams involved; and
  • performing more than one surgery.

Other causes pertain to the standards in place, or lack thereof; this includes not having procedures or policies to deal with the issue of leaving objects inside a patient or not following those that exist. Communication problems amongst the staff is another example.

Leaving a foreign object in the patient’s body after surgery is cause for legal action against the party or parties responsible. Gacovino, Lake & Associates can help injured patients collect compensation to address their additional medical bills, lost wages, and more.

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