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Sponges left in surgical patients spur medical malpractice claims

Every medical procedure comes with some risk but when an error occurs during an operation, it can have a negative effect on the patient, causing a medical condition to worsen or lead to a patient's death. Residents of New Haven, Connecticut, should be concerned because "never events"-or those medical mistakes that should never happen-can occur.

Sponges left in patients' bodies are one of those events that should never happen. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine how often a surgical object is left inside a patient's body. Data from a Mayo Clinic review revealed that during a three-year period, one case of a foreign object left in a surgical patient occurred for every 5,500 surgeries. Another study involving malpractice settlements over two decades showed that "never" events occur more than five times a day.

The best way to ensure that all sponges are taken out of the patient's body is by manually counting those that go in. Unfortunately, human error accounts for such medical mistakes as miscounts. The Joint Commission, a non-profit organization, found that counts are wrong about 10 percent to 15 percent of the time. According to the report, in most cases where an incorrect count occurred, healthcare providers thought they had it right.

Technologies are being developed to avoid the occurrences that bring on medical malpractice lawsuits. One company, for instance, developed a technology using sponges with barcodes paired with an electronic counter.

Although technology is available, medical errors can still occur because of negligence. Patients can suffer because of medical mistakes and can incur additional medical expenses and other costs. In addition, a longer hospital stay or recovery can result in lost wages. The victim may consider filing a medical malpractice lawsuit seeking compensation from negligent medical staff or hospital.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Can Technology Stop Surgeons From Leaving Sponges Inside Patients?," John Tozzi, March 25, 2014

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