Every year, thousands of surgeries are performed in hospitals and surgical centers across the United States.  Patients undergo these operations with faith that their surgeon and healthcare team will only act in a manner consistent with the standards of care.  Sadly, research is consistently proving that this is not always the case.  Surgical mistakes are increasingly common, and according to The Joint Commission, the most prevalent is retained objects.

In this post, our Houston medical malpractice attorney discusses retained objects – what they are, why they are so dangerous, and what you can do to protect your legal rights. If you have any questions about retained objects or surgical errors, contact Brown, Christie & Green directly to discuss your concerns with one of our attorneys.

Retained Objects a Prevalent Concern

Known as “retained surgical items” (RSIs), or simply retained objects, research shows that there is an alarming number of incidents across the U.S. involving surgery tools left inside patient bodies.  Estimates from The Joint Commission indicate that numerous reports of RSIs occur every year in the U.S.  Of the 770 such reports documented in between 2005 to 2012, 95 percent of patients required extended hospital stays, and 16 people died.  Healthcare experts believe that the total number of RSI incidents may be significantly higher, even in the thousands, but many incidents go undiagnosed or reported.

Common Trends in Retained Objects

During surgery, the medical team uses a variety of tools and instruments. The most common retained objects found in patients include:

  • Sponges
  • Towels
  • Stapler components
  • Broken instrument pieces
  • Sharp materials
retained objects, surgical mistakes

Retained objects mostly occur in emergencies or in operations where the procedure suddenly changes.  However, there have been numerous reports of these surgical mistakes that involved a lack of communication, failure to follow surgical guidelines, or negligence.

Most commonly, retained objects result from invasive procedures.  These procedures may be performed in ambulatory surgery centers, labor and delivery rooms, and standard operating rooms.

Risks of Retained Objects on Patient Health

The risks associated with retained objects are numerous.  The obvious risk is the physical injuries that can occur when a surgical tool or instrument is left inside the body.  Retained objects may migrate to different parts of the body, or may cause damage to internal structures.  Retained objects can also increase the risk of infections, including sepsis.

In addition to the physical risks, there is also the risk for severe emotional and psychological trauma, overwhelming medical expenses, and an altered quality of life.  A few alarming examples include:

  • In 2006, a man fell violently ill and believed he had a stomach virus.  After days of illness, his doctor ordered a CT scan, and found several surgical sponges fused to his intestines from the previous year when he had digestive surgery.  The injuries were so extensive that the patient required numerous surgeries and spent weeks in a medically induced coma.  Doctors removed the infected sections of intestine and rerouted his digestive tract, but little could be done.  For the rest of his life, his bodily waste will be collected outside his body in a pouch that he must regularly change.
  • In 2010, a woman felt that something was just not right as her abdomen swelled excessively following a cesarean section.  Six weeks post-operation, she looked pregnant again and her bowels had shut down.  An x-ray revealed the presence of a washcloth inside her abdomen that had become lodged among her intestines causing infection.  She was hospitalized for almost three weeks.
  • In 2012, a nurse fell violently ill, and a CT scan indicated the presence of a surgical sponge left in her body in 2005 when she underwent a hysterectomy.  The nurse suffered from extensive health complications, anxiety and depression, and disabilities.

What Patients Can Do

While it can be difficult to personally identify a retained object, individuals who have had surgery and subsequently have unexplained illness or injuries should consult their healthcare provider right away.  Being proactive in diagnosing and treating a retained object can greatly improve the chances of a positive outcome.

It is also important for patients diagnosed with retained objects to explore their legal rights.  When surgical tools are left inside the body, the patient is violated in a most inhumane way.  Surgical mistakes like these are unacceptable, and patients should never settle for excuses.

Learn More about Your Legal Rights

Retained objects are one of the most common – and terrifying – surgical mistakes in the U.S.  We all know that humans make mistakes, but when it comes to healthcare, mistakes can mean the difference between life or death.  Surgeons and operating room staff are required to follow standardized guidelines, also called the standards of care.  When they fail to do so, not only are they violating their responsibilities, they are violating your legal rights.

Learn more about retained objects and your legal rights by contacting Brown, Christie & Green. Our medical malpractice attorneys are skilled in managing all sorts of healthcare negligence claims.  We have the knowledge and resources you need to understand and protect your legal rights.  Fill out our online form, or call us toll free at 1-800-600-4210 to get started.

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