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Retained Foreign Object Cases Remain A Patient Safety Risk

The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) accredits and certifies more than 15,000 hospitals and other healthcare organizations in the United States. Its mission is to improve the safety and quality of care patients receive at these entities. It tracks "sentinel events," which it defines as "an unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury, or the risk thereof." Such events are called "sentinel" because they signal the need for immediate investigation and response.

One type of sentinel event that JCAHO tracks are retained foreign objects. Retained foreign objects are surgical items left in patients following surgery. Estimates indicated that surgical items are left in 1,500 people per year in the United States, including:

  • Surgical sponges
  • Surgical towels
  • Surgical instruments (clamps and retractors)

These items are most often left in:

  • The abdomen or pelvis (54% of the cases)
  • The vagina (29%)
  • The thorax (7%)

Mortality rates resulting from the unintended retention of foreign objects are as high as 11% to 35%. In virtually all cases, the patient is required to undergo a second (needless) operation to have a foreign object removed.

The JCAHO has issued strategies in an effort to prevent, or at least reduce, the occurrence of retained foreign object events. Hopefully, the implementation of these strategies, and diligence by health care providers in the operating room, will increase patient safety.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a retained foreign object, and you like to know more about your legal rights, the attorneys at Shevlin Smith would be happy to speak with you.


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