Sponges Left Behind After Surgery Because They Are Hard To Identify Indicates Medical Malpractice Attorney, Tom Robenalt
Cleveland, OH (Law Firm Newswire) October 22, 2013 – In Washington alone, at least 30 patients a year discover they have a surgical instrument or sponge left inside them after an operation.
“This doesn’t just happen in Washington State,” said Tom Robenalt, a Cleveland medical malpractice lawyer of Mellino Robenalt LLC. “It happens in just about every state across America. In fact, it is one of the most common medical mistakes surgeons commit.”
Even though there is a pre and post-surgery checklist of the many instruments used during an operation, and a verbal count and check routine, patients may still come to harm later, as a result of something left behind in their body cavity. Do the counts and checklists help or make any difference?
“They do help, but there are still more never events than ever being discovered in recent years. Simply put, medical mistakes are the leading cause of serious injuries and death across the nation,” Robenalt remarked. Although the number of never events does fluctuate from year-to-year, the fact is they still happen when they should not. Having a surgical error free year is possible, and has been done in some American hospitals, but it is apparently not consistent.
Why do surgical instruments go missing inside a patient? What about the pre and post-surgery instrument counts? “They do work, but the one major thing that causes problems is after they are used, and no longer clean and white and very visible, they blend in with the body cavity environment, meaning they become hard to find as they blend in color into the background tissues,” explained Robenalt.
Although there is a more visual method of assessing if all sponges are present and accounted for after surgery, not all hospitals have or use the method. It involves a hanging rack where used sponges are clipped up for visual inspection. While this may work, there is still a lot of room for errors, which means one of the newer approaches to sponge counting may find favor in operating rooms nationwide —- a sponge with an e-chip, or radio-frequency tag inside them.
“It’s about the size of a grain of rice, but surgeons can swipe an e-wand over the body cavity and pick up anything left inside,” said Robenalt. Would sponge tracking be expensive? The maker says about $10 per surgery, a bonus for patient safety. However, they need to figure out how to bury the right kind of electronics in a steel retractor.
“Despite the latest innovations in tracking sponges and instruments, the main factor that needs to be enhanced and improved, continuously, is human-to-human communication. Everyone in the OR needs to be clear and precise at all times. Sharp, on-the-ball and alert. Class distinctions have no place in the surgical suite, where everyone is there for the ‘patient’ and not the doctor,” Robenalt added.