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New technology helps avoid surgical tools from being left behind

Stories of surgical sponges and even instruments left in patients might seem hard to believe, but they definitely happen. These types of hospital errors appear with alarming frequency. However, new technology may help doctors avoid this pitfall and keep patients safer and healthier.

About 4,000 so-called retained surgical items are reported every year in the United States. Most of these are sponges are used to control bleeding. In most operating theaters, nurses are responsible for counting the number of sponges used to be sure they are all retrieved. New technology such as radio-frequency tags has made the old method of counting obsolete, but some hospitals cling to these practices.

Radio tags are embedded in each sponge and can be monitored to ensure an accurate count when the sponges are removed after surgery. According to experts, the cost to use radio-tagged sponges as opposed to traditional sponges averages only $10 per surgery. This technology might help doctors avoid costly mistakes, such as leaving sponges in patients. However, many patients suffer terrible infections and even risk death when these mistakes happen.

Sponges are not the only items left behind in patients. There have been cases of scalpels, scissors, and other surgical tools being lost inside of patients during surgery. While the radio-tag technology will not help with these issues, better pre- and post-operative protocols and counting procedures in the operating room might.

Patients who have suffered medical malpractice from a retained surgical object can often recover damages for the oversight of the surgical team. A medical malpractice attorney can explain the patient's options and rights in these situations.

Source: The New York Times, "When Surgeons Leave Objects Behind," Anahad O'Connor, Sept. 24, 2012

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