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What do surgical errors cost?

When surgeons leave items behind inside patients, there is a high risk that patients can get ill or even die. Sponges and surgical tools can't be left behind; doctors have to take steps to avoid this and protect their patients. Sadly, that doesn't always happen.

One patient described her story in which a provider performed a cesarean-section and left a sponge behind. The sponge was left in the abdominal cavity, causing infection and leading to three weeks in the hospital. The sad truth about this case is that leaving a sponge behind shouldn't have happened, but it is a common occurrence among patients. It's one of the most common surgical errors.

Sponges are notorious because they blend in, making it hard to find out if they're still inside the patient. Today, counting, recounting and tagging these sponges helps surgeons find them and remove them from patients, but only if they have a good system of communication in place.

Patients with retained surgical sponges may spend years suffering before anyone can figure out why they're in pain. Infection is common at that point. That usually means going through surgery to remove the sponge or offending item and then having to recover from infection and other damage to the body that should have been prevented.

It's suggested by government studies and research that between 4,500 to 6,000 of these same incidents happen each year. Hospitalizations cost an average of $60,000 for patients with retained surgical tools inside them. Medical malpractice cases also impact the hospitals following these injuries, averaging $100,000 to $200,000 per case.

Source: USA Today, "What surgeons leave behind costs some patients dearly," Peter Eisler, accessed June 12, 2018

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