Some medical errors are called “never events” because these errors should never be committed by medical staff on a patient. One of these never events is leaving a surgical sponge inside of a patient after surgery. This kind of error can have serious consequences, and while Missouri surgeons should remain vigilant to prevent this kind of error, it continues to happen every year.

Per CNN, a study by the American Society of Anesthesiologists found that surgeons leave about a dozen surgical instruments, including sponges, inside the bodies of patients each year. Sponges, according to a 2003 study by the New England Journal of Medicine, make up 70% of surgical items that are left behind inside surgery patients. While efforts have been taken to reduce this problem, it still happens for a number of reasons.

Distraction can cause surgeons to mistakenly leave a sponge inside of a patient. Distracting events can happen in a number of ways. Music might be played in the background. A member of the surgery team might be on the phone. A conversation may be taking place in the operating room. Any of these activities can take away a physician’s attention from where it is most needed and cause a surgical instrument to be unaccounted for.

However, surgical instruments left inside a patient are more likely to occur in a higher stress environment. A planned surgical procedure may need to be changed unexpectedly. A patient may also be wheeled into the emergency room for immediate surgery. The CNN report points out that in these situations, the risk of leaving behind a surgical item rises 900%.

The consequences of leaving a sponge inside a patient can be detrimental to the patient’s health. A retained sponge can cause pain in the area of the body where the sponge resides. Patients may also experience bloating. More seriously, a sponge or other surgical items can result in sepsis. Some people even die as a result of a retained surgical item.

This article is written to inform readers about surgical error topics. It is no substitute for the advice of a professional attorney.