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“What Surgeons Leave Behind”

That’s the headline of a recent front-page story in USA Today (March 8-10, 2013).  The newspaper reports that doctors sew up patients with mistaken objects inside more than a dozen times a day – the most common being sponges, needles and instruments.The story talks about a woman who had to undergo six hours of emergency surgery in Alabama to remove a sponge the size of a washcloth that was left during her C-section.  It had become so infected, she had to spend three weeks in the hospital recovering.  Another example was that of a man in Florida who underwent surgery for a digestive disorder.  A year later, after suffering from severe vomiting, a CT scan revealed sponges had fused to his spine, necessitating several surgeries to remove parts of his intestine and re-route what was left.  He said he still has “wicked pain” but is “happy to be alive.”  Very sad stories.In the medical world, these mistakes are referred to as “never events,” the article by Peter Eisler reports.  But thousands of times every year these events that are never supposed to happen actually occur.  Indiana University Health System reportedly started using sponges embedded with a tiny radio-frequency tag and before patients ware closed up after surgery, they get scanned with a sensor that detects any sponges left in a person’s body.  It costs the three hospitals about $275,000 per year for the tracking technology or an average of about $8 per surgery, Eisler reports, and the hospitals there say they have not lost a sponge in the five years since they have been using it.  Mayo Clinic uses a unique bar code that is scanned before and after the sponges go into a patient and reports it hasn’t lost a sponge in four years since using that technology.Only 15 percent of hospitals use sponges that are equipped with electronic tracking devices, a technology that is said to drastically reduce the risk of them being left in patients, according to USA Today.  The article also found that of the three sponge-tracking systems approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), fewer than 600 hospitals use them of the nearly 4,200 that perform surgeries nationwide.Mistakes, which often lead to infections, can be life-threatening or deadly for some and can be very costly for the hospitals.  With some 32 million invasive surgeries performed every year, the incidence rate of an object being left in a patient is estimated to be between 5,500 to 7,000, with 1-2 percent of those cases being fatal.  Sponges are said to account for up to 70 percent of the lost items in patients.Hospitals need to take every precaution to prevent unnecessary mistakes happening, particularly when technology is available to help in the prevention efforts.  To read the entire USA Today article on this issue, click here.

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