Left Behind Surgical Sponges-a Never Event That May Lead to Technological Intervention

Among the more common surgical “never” events is a surgical sponge left behind within the patient after surgery. Such “never” events are preventable medical errors that one “analysis of 20 years of malpractice settlements found that such incidents were the most common “never events,” with an estimated 2,024 claims per year, or a rate of more than five each day.”
Surgical sponge errors occur with such frequency because their handling is prone to human error. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, “The most common approach for making sure all sponges come out of patients is to count them as they go in. But the current counting methods “are prone to human error,” according to an October report by the Joint Commission, a nonprofit that certifies health-care providers on quality standards. Counts are wrong about 10 percent to 15 percent of the time, and most cases where sponges are left in the patient “occur with what staff believe is a correct count,” according to the report.” Now, a medical device company has devised a bar-coded system to employ technology to scan and count sponges used in surgery as well as count those that are removed once the procedure has been completed. It’s not certain how successful this technology will be in preventing “never” events in the operating room but there is a great deal of room for improvement in the present system.