According to the Joint Commission, leaving surgical tools and other objects in a patient’s body after surgery is a common error in hospitals in Massachusetts and around the country. This event is known as the “Unintended Retention of Foreign Objects, or URFO. A four-year study at the Mayo Clinic revealed an incidence of this in one in 5,500 surgeries after reviewing 411,526 of them. Other studies have revealed that some hospitals are 10 times more likely to perform this error than other hospitals.

By far, sponges are the most common surgical tool left in the body’s cavity. One woman had an undetected sponge left in her after a cesarean procedure. In addition to severe pain, her bowels were shut down. It required a six hour surgery to remove the sponge. Fortunately, the patient survived. The Joint Commission warns the present practice for counting sponges has about a 10 to 15 percent error rate. There is definitely a cost-effective fix for URFO. With new technology available, hospitals can easily tag the sponges with radio-frequency systems that make a beep after a wand is waved over a patient.

These types of barcodes only add a minimal $2 to $10 cost to the surgery. Amazingly, only about 15 percent of hospitals are implementing this technology. While the Joint Commission recommends that the health care industry research new technology, apparently the advice is falling on deaf ears.

URFO falls in the legal realm of medical malpractice, and there are legal professionals who specialize in surgeon malpractice. When URFO occurs after surgery, pain and additional medical complications that are life threatening can occur. With the help of a Massachusetts medical malpractice attorney, patients with damages could file a lawsuit for compensation.

Source: Forbes, “The Nauseating Mistake Hospitals Make And The $10 Fix They Scrimp On“, Leah Binder, October 24, 2013