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What are retained surgical items?

As you enter the operating room to have a procedure performed, you are putting your health and wellbeing in the hands of experienced and talented surgeons and operating room staff. The last thing on your mind is whether or not you will leave the OR with a surgical instrument sutured up inside of you. The very thought of something like this happening sounds unheard of. However, it does happen more often than you may think.

A study performed by Johns Hopkins University found that surgical items are left behind in patients at least 4,000 times every year in the United States. These forgotten objects can cause major infections, and in some cases, lead to permanent injuries or even death.

The most common objects left behind are surgical sponges, which are small gauze-like items used to help soak up bodily fluids from an operating site. Once the surgical sponges become saturated with blood and interstitial fluid, it is easy to lose them as they blend into their surroundings. They can easily adhere to an organ and cause devasting problems.

Surgical assistants are responsible for accounting for each piece of equipment before, during and after the surgery. Yet, instances have occurred where the count is off, and an item gets left behind. In some cases, involving retained surgical items, all items were accounted for on the OR sheet. Medical institutions have developed more advanced ways of keeping track of surgical supplies, so they do not get lost during procedures.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.

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