Up to 4,000 times a year, people are victims of surgical “never events”

6310985_sGoing through a surgical procedure in Las Vegas is always associated with some risk. However there are some mistakes that just should not happen. These surgical errors are called “never events” and according to a study from Johns Hopkins Medicine, they happen to people in the U.S. on average 4,000 times a year.

The estimate comes from a review of medical malpractice claims but researchers believe that the number may even be higher. Hospitals are not required to provide information relating to these types of events and it is thought that some simply don’t report when problems do occur. These never events include wrong-procedure, wrong-patient, wrong-site and retained-foreign body errors.

Retained sponges

USA Today reports that retained item errors happen over a dozen times each day and in many cases, the item is not a surgical instrument but a surgical sponge. Sponges are used to soak up blood and other body fluids around the site to provide better visibility for staff. Hospitals often rely on a manual count process; the sponges are counted before the surgery begins and then again, after the surgery is completed. This procedure is designed to prevent any sponges from being left behind but statistics show that it is not effective.

One of the main challenges facing surgical staff is the fact that the sponges often take on the appearance of tissue and are not easy to spot. Furthermore, dozens of sponges can be used during a surgical procedure and it may be difficult for staff to count them all at the end of the procedure. In some cases, it appears that the surgical staff was negligent in their responsibilities.


When these sponges are forgotten, they can cause a number of serious complications for patients. These complications include the following:

  • Additional surgeries
  • Digestive problems
  • Physical scars
  • Permanent damage
  • Extended pain and suffering
  • Infections

One man in Florida almost died because a surgical team had failed to realize that several sponges had been forgotten. He underwent a surgical procedure for a digestive order and then a year later started having severe pain in his abdomen and vomited non-stop. During that time the sponges had become embedded in the man’s intestines and an infection had occurred. Multiple surgeries were conducted to remove portions of his intestines but have left him with permanent scars and the need to wear a waste pouch on his stomach for the rest of his life.

Technology can help

Hospitals have the ability to eliminate this problem with new tracking sponge technology. The technology consists of tracking devices placed inside each sponge, which emit a beeping sound when a scanner is moved over them. Despite this technology less, than 15 percent of U.S. hospitals use it citing cost concerns. The estimated additional cost per surgery is $8 to $12.

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