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Objects left in patients have a simple solution

Wisconsin residents might not be aware that one of the most frequently reported medical errors is a tool or other object being left inside a patient after surgery. According to the alert by the Joint Commission, these objects are sometimes hard to detect, and some patients have suffered pain, infection and other medical problems until the object is finally removed, usually via another surgery. Something as simple as a forgotten surgical sponge can lead to debilitating health problems or even death. The cost to patients and hospitals is considerable.

However, this problem has a relatively inexpensive solution. About 15 percent of U.S. hospitals now tag their surgical tools and sponges with radio frequency chips. A quick pass of a wand over the patient will reveal retained objects via a beeping sound. Studies have shown that the technology does reduce this kind of surgical error. Moreover, the technology adds $10 or less to the cost of each operation.

Unfortunately, many hospitals rely on counting the sponges and tools before and after the operation. Since many sponges are used in a typical operation, and because they are hard to see in the body cavity once they are saturated with blood, the counting method is far from foolproof. Yet, the Joint Commission recommends that hospitals improve their counting methods and procedures, even though these new technologies are proven to be more effective.

Because counting methods have an error rate of up to 15 percent, hospitals that rely on counting alone will continue to have problems with retained objects. They may also experience more medical malpractice litigation than necessary. Patients anticipating surgery should check their hospital's report card and avoid those with a high error rate.

Source: Forbes, "The Nauseating Mistake Hospitals Make And The $10 Fix They Scrimp On", Leah Binder, October 24, 2013

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