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Hospital hopes to reduce medical errors with new sponges

| Jun 20, 2013 | Surgical Errors

Patients from Massachusetts may be interested to learn that surgeons at St. John Medical Center in Washington are required to use bar-coded medical sponges when operating on patients. These sponges are scanned both before and after surgery to ensure that no sponge is accidentally left inside a patient. This step represents the hospital’s effort to reduce the number of surgical errors by hospital staff.

The new sponges contain bar codes that are specific to each patient who is being operated on. The scanner also keeps count of all sponges that are in use until they are scanned in again, ensuring that no sponge remains unaccounted for. Once scanned in, the sponges are disposed of. The upgrade only costs an additional $10 for each surgery.

In every 6,000 surgeries, it is estimated that one patient leaves the hospital with a sponge still inside them. From 2006 to 2012, three patients from St. John left with a “retained foreign object,” which includes any medical or surgical instrument. These medical errors are often a result of human errors, as nurses manually count all surgical equipment after the surgery. However, the sponges, which look more like rags, may blend in with body fluids after a long surgery, sometimes causing them to be overlooked.

Foreign objects left in the body can cause inflammation or pain and fever until the item is removed. However, months or even years can pass before a patient may be aware that something is amiss.

Medical errors can have devastating consequences for patients and their families, including unnecessary pain and suffering, permanent disability and even death. An experienced Massachusetts attorney may be able to help their clients in seeking the compensation that they need to cover expensive medical bills and any lost wages.

Source:, “St. John takes high-tech approach to avoiding surgery sponge errors“, Lyxan Toledanes, June 12, 2013


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