Retained surgical sponges: A serious problem in hospitals

13665020_sMany patients put their complete trust in their physician when they go into the hospital for a medical procedure. A Johns Hopkins study conducted in 2012 revealed that over 4,000 surgical errors are made by medical professionals annually. Additionally, an analysis of data collected in hospitals between the years 1990 and 2010 revealed that doctors leave sponges inside of a patient’s body during surgery about 39 times per week. 

Consequences of retained sponges 

Doctors forgetting about a sponge in the body of one of their patients during an operation can lead to serious consequences for the patient. Retained sponges can cause a patient to:

  • Need several additional surgeries to correct the physician’s mistake
  • Suffer from nerve or organ damage
  • Be permanently scarred or disabled
  • Experience an infection that leads to further medical complications
  • Bleed so much internally that it eventually leads to severe blood loss or death 

For example, in 2010, a woman left the hospital where she had a cesarean section, feeling like something wasn’t quite right within her body.  A month after the operation, her stomach became so swollen that it almost appeared as if she was pregnant again. Two weeks later, she was rushed to the emergency room after having difficulties with her bowels.

Once X-rays were taken of the woman’s abdomen, physicians discovered that there was a sponge, about the size of a small towel, stuck inside her abdominal region. In order to remove the sponge, she had to undergo an operation that took six hours and required her to stay in the hospital for three weeks. 

What can hospitals do to prevent the problem? 

Hospitals can implement certain technologies into their operations that can prevent surgical devices, like sponges, from getting left behind in the bodies of their patients. According to a USA Today review, sponge-tracking systems designed to specifically trace the location of sponges used during an operation at all times only add about $8 to $12 to the cost of surgeries. However, many hospitals don’t consider using this technology because other medical malpractice issues, like patients lapsing during infection control, are of greater concern.  Additionally, the symptoms of a retained sponge are often not realized for several months or even years after an operation, making it difficult for patients to trace their problems back to the exact place of origination.

Those who have suffered due to a surgeon failing to remove a sponge from within their body after an operation may benefit from working with an attorney who can hold the hospital and surgeon accountable for their negligent actions.