Millions of people in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation put their lives in the hands of surgeons and other professionals when they enter the operating room. You trust that the surgical professionals performing your procedure are well-trained, detail minded and will not make a mistake.

Yet, surgical errors occur more often than you may think. The American Society of Anesthesiologists reported between 4,500 and 6,000 cases where surgical instruments are left behind in patient’s operating sites every year. In two-thirds of the cases, patients suffered serious, long-term damage as a result of the error.

How does it happen?

During a procedure, surgical items can get misplaced within an operating site. For example, surgical sponges, used to soak up blood and fluid, can become camouflaged within the body once they are full. In fact, 70% of the items left within the body are surgical sponges, as reported by the New England Journal of Medicine.

In one case, a woman complained of abdominal discomfort after having a stomach surgery. She went three years with this pain and inflammation before an x-ray detected a foreign object lodged by her kidneys. The surgeon found that a surgical sponge left behind from her prior surgery had attached to the outside of the kidney and become badly infected.

How to prevent this from happening?

Although most medical institutions have procedures in place to prevent these errors from occurring, they continue to happen. The surgical team may count instruments before, during and after the procedure to ensure nothing is missing. Yet, this does not always work. In cases where objects were left behind, the instrument logs show technicians attesting that all surgical tools were accounted for after the procedure was complete.

Some institutions have implemented bar code scanning as a way to better account for all items and to minimize the risk of these types of preventable surgical errors.