With healthcare costs the way they are, when you are having surgery, you would expect the surgeon to perform the operation in a nearly perfect manner. Although nobody is perfect, you certainly expect that the surgeon would not make an obvious error. However, the reality is that this is often the case. A recent article in USA Today points out that surgeons leave behind surgical items in their patients more than 12 times per day.
In addition, an investigation conducted by USA Today found that although items such as clamps, forceps and other surgical items are sometimes left behind, the most common left-behind object was the humble cotton surgical sponge. This object is used to soak up blood and other fluids during surgical procedures.
Shockingly, there is not a federal mandate to report these types of surgical errors. According to what little government data exists on the subject, objects are left behind in about 3,000 surgeries per year. However, since the data is incomplete, this number is likely too low. The USA Today investigation of studies, statistics and medical malpractice lawsuits found that the actual number is closer to 4,500 to 6,000 per year.
According to the investigation, hospitals are hesitant to implement solutions, despite the seriousness and prevalence of these errors. In most hospitals, surgical staffs count the number of sponges. However, it is easy to lose count or miscount, so this method has limited effectiveness.
A better solution is to equip sponges and other surgical tools with electronic tracking devices, which allow a computer to quickly and accurately do the counting. However, despite the low cost of $8 to $12 per procedure, fewer than 15 percent of hospitals have implemented this system, according to the investigation.
Left-behind objects can cost the patient and the hospital dearly. According to Medicare data, to correct the damage done by left-behind objects, patients can expect to pay an average of $60,000. Additionally, hospitals can expect to shell out an average of between $100,000 and $200,000 in medical malpractice lawsuits.
In addition to the financial costs, there is the suffering that victims of left-behind objects can experience. This mistake can cause pain for months or years following the operation. Often the error is not discovered until infections or other complications develop. This delay can result in the loss of a body part or even death.
If you or a loved one have been the victim of medical malpractice, you may be entitled under North Carolina law to recover medical expenses, lost wages and damages for pain and suffering. Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can evaluate your case and work to recover the maximum amount of compensation due to you under the law.