Is leaving surgical items inside patients a problem in Virginia hospitals?

Unfortunately, yes. Hospitals don't like to reveal how often patients suffer from retained surgical objects in Virginia, but a recent study estimated that 1 in every 8,000 patients will be wheeled out of surgery with a foreign object left inside them.

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A few objects that are commonly left in patient's bodies after surgery in Virginia:

  • Cloth items. Gauze, sponges and towels are used to soak up excess blood for better access and clearer vision during surgery. Unfortunately, they are easy to lose, since they take on the same color and texture as the patient's wounds.
  • Needles and tubing. If the affected area requires stitches, a needle, sutures or even plastic tubing may be left behind during wound closing.
  • Surgical instruments. It may seem impossible that surgeons and nurses could leave instruments in a patient, but extensive procedures require multiple clamps, which are easy to overlook or miscount.

As you can imagine, foreign objects in the body can cause a number of problems. Seventy percent of retained object cases involve sponges, which often lead to post-surgical infections. Clamps and plastic tubing can cause bowel perforation, abscess and internal bleeding.

As experienced Fairfax medical malpractice attorneys, we know that there are procedures in place to protect patients from these kinds of surgical errors. The surgical team is required to count and document all items used before surgery, and re-count the items before closure. However, there are many situations that can throw off the numbers-and result in something getting left behind.
A few factors that make retained objects more likely during surgery:

  • Abdominal surgery. Studies show that instruments are more likely to be left in the abdominal cavity than anywhere else on the body-and risks increase even more if the patient is overweight.
  • Complications. If a common surgical procedure goes awry, more implements may be needed to control excess bleeding. Since these were not counted ahead of time, there's a greater risk of leaving them behind.
  • Emergency surgery. Since medical teams have less time to prepare for emergency surgeries, these situations may not be as well organized as planned procedures. Accurate counts are more difficult when items are needed immediately to save a patient's life.

Perhaps the most worrying trend in retained objects is that they will usually only be discovered after the patient has trouble breathing, healing, or experiences strange pain-and most objects will require another surgical procedure to remove them.

If you have suffered an unnecessary surgery due to a surgeon's negligence, call Shevlin Smith today at (703) 591-0067 for a free consultation on your Virginia medical malpractice case.