New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Medical Malpractice


December 11th, 2007

Studies: 1,500 Surgical Objects Left In U.S. Patients Each Year

See that clamp to the right? It was left inside a patient. Think it’s unusual? Studies show that about 1,500 times a year surgical objects are left behind by mistake in the U.S.

This, of course, isn’t supposed to happen. The surgical team is supposed to count all that goes in, and then count all that comes out. If the counts don’t match, something is wrong.

The prior technology to find the missing equipment, which is most often a sponge or pad, is to have a radio opaque filament inside so that it shows up on an x-ray. An example of that can be seen at the film below left. (Some folks collect baseballs, some collect figurines, but a medical malpractice attorney collects, well, this stuff.)

Now a new technology is coming out where the sponges and pads will be bar coded, according to this article. The sponges are supposed to be scanned when they go in and re-scanned when the come out, and the scanning machine is supposed to set off a racket if everything is not accounted for. Will this help cut down on the human error that accounts for the current state of things? Perhaps.

The medical euphemism for these forgotten objects, by the way, is that the object was “retained,” as if the body itself demanded it be left behind. And that is one of the ways that language is subtlety used to shift blame away from the medical team for its failure to keep track of the instruments.

One thought on “Studies: 1,500 Surgical Objects Left In U.S. Patients Each Year

  1. Eric,

    As a surgeon, it isn’t the incorrect counts that you worry about, everyone will look and look and look. It’s the correct counts (that are actually incorrect) that I worry about.

    Most “retained” foreign bodies occur in emergency cases or in patients that are quite large and it is easy to loose something.