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There’s no excuse for a surgical sponge left behind in a patient

| Sep 15, 2017 | Surgical Errors

There are some surgical errors that are called “never events” — meaning they are mistakes that should never happen because they are 100 percent preventable.

Leaving a sponge inside a patient is one of those “never events.” Yet, experts say that medical sponges — which are no more than 3-inch squares of sterile cotton — get left behind inside patients around 11 times every day during surgeries.

That’s an astounding number, considering that the sponges are supposed to be counted both before, during and after a surgery.

A sponge that’s left behind could potentially cause no harm to a patient — but, like any foreign object inside a human body, it also has the potential for serious harm. It could cause a blockage, create a pocket of infection, cause pain or be attacked by the body’s immune system. Virtually undetectable on x-rays and other diagnostic equipment, a patient could have a sponge left inside to fester and cause trouble for years without knowing the source of his or her pain.

However, Stryker, the medical company responsible for some of the most innovative high-tech surgical devices on the market, is now trying to push for change in the nation’s operating rooms by getting hospitals to use surgical sponges that are about as high tech as a can of soup that you might buy at the grocery store.

Like that can of soup, the sponges are bar coded. A tablet computer tracks the sponges via their bar codes and can tell exactly when one has been used and then collected after surgery.

After around 11 million surgeries with the bar coded sponges in the last five years, the company is proud to report that not one of their 200 million surgical sponges was left behind in a patient. The bar codes and computer tracking essentially puts an end to the counting errors made by tired humans at the end of a surgical shift — making one more “never event” something that truly has no business ever happening.

Some surgical errors simply are inexcusable — especially given the modern innovations that make it easier than ever to avoid them. Learn about your rights if you have been a victim of such an even that *never* should have taken place!

Source:, “Stryker builds surgical safety business with no-mistakes sponge system,” Al Jones, Sep. 13, 2017


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