A surgical error with a simple solution

When the Joint Commission, responsible for accrediting hospitals for Medicare, issues an alert, Texas and the rest of the country pay attention. The Joint Commission has issued an alert about Unintended Retention of Foreign Objects, which are items that are accidentally left in the patient during surgery.

Sponges are the most common item left behind. Dozens up to hundreds of them may be needed during a surgery, and when they become blood-soaked, they are easy to overlook. Sponges left inside the patient can cause suffering, infection and even death. The Joint Commission reports that the current method for counting surgical sponges has an error rate that ranges from 10 to 15 percent.

With the use of available technology, there is a way to making sure that ‘foreign objects” are removed before the patient is finished with surgery. Barcoding every surgical item, including each sponge, and then running a bar scanner over the patient and listening for a beep would not only reduce the error rate, but it would only add a few dollars to the cost of each surgery. Some feel that this is a small incremental price to pay to assure that no unnecessary items are left behind. However, an alternative is to stop reporting on the objects left inside patients during surgery. This is what the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, the agency that funds Medicare, has decided to do.

A Texas resident who is the victim of a surgical error may experience additional medical costs, pain and a lower quality of life. An attorney may be able to assist the patient with obtaining compensation from those who are responsible for the error.

Source: Forbes, “The Nauseating Mistake Hospitals Make And The $10 Fix They Scrimp On“, Leah Binder, October 24, 2013