Every year across the country about 2,000 patients end up having materials left behind inside of them after a surgery. Often times it can take weeks, months or even years for the materials to be discovered, which can lead to complications and another necessary surgery in order to take out whatever was left behind by the original surgical team.
Over the past several years, surgical errors where materials are left behind, like sponges, needles and gauze, have garnered quite a bit of attention. To try and reduce errors, like materials being left behind, in 2008 Medicare stopped paying hospitals in certain cases where patients were injured due to medical errors. Last year Medicaid announced a similar policy.
But just why do these types of surgical errors continue to happen and what can be done?
According to experts, the issue is that hospitals around the country do not have a good and reliable system in place to ensure that all medical materials are collected after a surgery. The belief is that the system and the hospital culture needs to change in order to better prevent surgical errors.
Technology can also end up being used in the operating room. For example, hospitals can use sponges that have bar codes. The sponges -- which are the most common left behind material -- would be individually scanned in and scanned out before and after every surgery. This would prevent the human error of miscounting. Additionally, the patient could be scanned after the surgery to make sure nothing was left behind.
In terms of hospital culture, medical staff members -- including doctors, surgeons and nurses -- need to start to work more as a team. This means speaking up when things seem wrong and making sure everyone is on the same page to ensure the safety of the patient.