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What happens when doctors leave objects behind?

If you have ever been in the operating room for a surgical procedure, you may have felt at ease that the surgeons and surgical staff was adequately trained and licensed to perform the operation. You are essentially putting your life in the hands of these medical professionals, as well as their experience and knowledge. Surprisingly enough, however, there are a number of incidents where medical negligence causes serious problems for people who leave the operating room. One of the potential complications occurs when physicians leave surgical instruments behind in a patient’s surgical site. These shocking medical mistakes occur more often than you may think.

According to a study published by John Hopkins University, cases involving retained surgical items occur at least 39 times every week in the United States. Surgical sponges are some of the most common items left behind. Surgeons use these sponges to soak up blood, and other bodily fluid from the surgical site. However, once the sponges become saturated with fluid, it is easy for them to blend into the surrounding environment and get overlooked. In one incident, a surgical sponge that was left inside a woman’s operating site adhered to her organs and caused serious infection, nearly taking her life.

Although there are methods of accounting for surgical items in place, they are not always effective. In cases where items have been left in a patient’s surgical site, all of the equipment was accounted for on the chart prior to the patient being sutured. Medical organizations and institutions are in the process of developing better ways of accounting for equipment to help minimize this problem.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.

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