Patients continue to have “retained surgical items” – or items including sponges, needles and instruments – left in their bodies following surgery about a dozen times a day, according to the latest studies. 

While there is no federal reporting requirement on these instances, government data suggests it happens between 4,500 and 6,000 times a year in the U.S. alone, with sponges accounting for about 70% of lost surgical items.

Complications for a patient suffering from one of these incidents can last a lifetime. Many patients suffer for years before anyone determines the cause of their pain, at which point infection has more than likely set in, leading to loss of parts of intestines and even death.

Even while these incidents continue to plague the medical community, fewer than 15% of U.S. hospitals have invested in electronic tracking devices for surgical sponges. Sponge-tracking systems typically add $8-$12 to the cost of an operation – a tiny fraction of the average procedure’s price – and would reduce the risk of retained surgical items almost to zero, if used properly.

The Mayo Clinic, which adopted a bar code system for each sponge to be scanned before and after it goes into a patient, has not had a lost sponge case in almost four years. Read the full details here:

What surgeons leave behind costs some patients dearly

A retained surgical item – in this case, a surgical towel – was at the center of a recent case of Crandall & Pera Law Attorney Steve Crandall (Kelly Maron et al. v. Lake Health Systems and Dr. Timothy Pritchard). The towel was left in our client’s abdomen following a June 2009 surgery to remove colon cancer and was not discovered for five months, causing the removal of 2/3 of her bowel and massive digestive issues which will last her entire life. The $910,000 verdict reached in August 2012 for this case has been informally reported as the largest medical negligence verdict in Lake County, Ohio’s history. Read more about this case.

If you or a loved one have been injured due to retained surgical items, please call to investigate your matter fully. Crandall & Pera Law is available to help answer your questions and guide you in determining your next steps.