Surgical Sponges Left Behind After Surgery Reveal the Complexity and Cost of Surgical Errors

Leaving behind a surgical sponge after a procedure is a “never” event that happens with troubling frequency. According to the most recent data, there was approximately one “foreign object” case for every 5,500 operations from 2003 to 2006. Furthermore, an examination of malpractice settlements over a two-decade period found that sponge cases are common at a rate of roughly 2,024 claims per year. Such errors are human mistakes caused by failing to properly count surgical sponges used and removed during any given procedure. In most instances, the staff person responsible for counting the sponges makes an error. These errors often require further surgery, complications, risk of infection, and pain and discomfort for the patient. In order to avoid the risk of human error, some health advocates are pushing for new technology that would use bar-coded sponges that can be read by electronic scanners, even when the sponges are soaked in blood or bodily fluids. If the technology works, this would reduce the human element and perhaps increase patient safety.

Holly Haines