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Retained Foreign Bodies and Medical Malpractice

Retained Foreign Bodies and Medical Malpractice

Retained Foreign Bodies and Medical Malpractice

Sometimes during surgery, pieces of medical equipment, such as gauze, sponges, surgical needles, knife blades, and tubes, are left in a patient’s body after surgery. In fact, it is estimated that nearly once in every one hundred surgeries a foreign body is left in a patient. Leaving a foreign body in a patient can lead to infection, perforation of organs, and even death.

How Does a Foreign Body Get Left in a Patient?

Surgeons and other operating room teams are required to perform counts of sponges, sharps and instruments used during the operation as a means to eliminate retained surgical instruments. Many health care practitioners recommend that four counts be undertaken. The first count should be taken when the instruments to be used in the surgery are set up. The second count should be done immediately before surgery begins. The third should be done prior to closing the surgical site. The last count should be done prior to the completion of closure.

While the counting process would seem to eliminate the problem of retained foreign bodies, often that is not the case. Because some surgical procedures require the use of hundreds of sponges, getting an accurate count can sometimes be a difficult and lengthy process. Thus, sometimes the count is not performed repeatedly. Also, sometimes, the need for additional sponges or instruments is needed during the surgery. If these items are not added to the count, the count can be erroneous.

What Happens When a Foreign Body is Retained?

If a count reveals that an instrument is missing, the surgeon is responsible for taking action to locate it. Often, an x-ray will reveal a retained instrument. If the retained instrument is suspected after a surgery is completed, x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI may be needed to locate the instrument. When a foreign body is left in a patient, the patient often requires subsequent surgery to remove the item.

The retention of a foreign body in a patient is deemed evidence of negligence in most states. While retained foreign body cases are difficult for surgeons or other operating room personnel to defend, a plaintiff is still required to prove causation and damages in order to recover in a retained instrument case. If the retained instrument is discovered immediately after surgery, the plaintiff’s damages may be limited. If, however, the retention of an instrument causes significant injuries, a plaintiff can generally be awarded a large verdict.

Copyright 2014 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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