Due to significant risks, surgery is usually elected when there are not equally effective, non-invasive methods for treatment. Prior to surgery, there are mandatory appointments wherein the patient is informed of the specific risks involved in their surgery. There is, however, one surgery risk that doctors or medical teams are unlikely to mention during these appointments: the retention of surgical items (RSIs) after surgery. An RSI is any item used during surgery that accidentally gets left behind.
The damage done to patients by RSIs is so preventable that leaving a surgical item inside a patient’s body is referred to in medicine as a “never event,” something that should never, ever happen. In reality, estimates place the number of RSIs to be between 4,500 and 6,000 per year, and there are medical studies that show much higher incidence rates in individual hospitals.
Nearly 70% of the time, the retained item is a surgical sponge. The damage done by this simple tool is immense, as the most common source of RSI injury is potentially fatal infection. The most frequent location for an RSI is in the abdomen, where it can become entangled with other organs, cause infection, require additional surgery, and cause serious lifelong injury or death.
Nurses and Technology Play a Role in Attempting to Reduce RSIs
As can often be the case, professional organizations do significant work toward improving the effectiveness of its members’ practice. The Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN) has recently approved and published an update to their publication, “Guideline for Prevention of Retained Surgical Items,” with the goal being to develop a systems approach to limiting the human error component of RSIs.
In addition to best practices for surgical tool counts and maintenance, the new guidelines emphasize two overarching needs for decreasing the numbers of RSIs: creating an environment where all team members feel safe to speak out on possible safety concerns and finding distraction-free time and space for individuals responsible for accounting for surgical items.
The rapid pace of the operating room and the medical hierarchy make it difficult for nurses to feel able to speak up. This can be a difficult problem to solve, so the new guidelines recommend training programs to teach common language and allow anyone on the surgical team to express a concern. The other overarching problem is addressed by the recommendation that team members complete counts of equipment before the patient enters the operating room, to avoid being rushed or distracted. The guidelines also recommend restricting many distracting activities, including non-essential conversation, during any count of items before, during, and after surgery.
In the long run, technology may play a critical role in reducing RSIs. A handful of the country’s hospitals already use small chips or tracking devices on sponges. These allow for a scan of the body prior to closing of the incisions in order to find remaining sponges. Participating hospitals usually bring their RSI rate down to zero. Despite the fact that successful hospitals have found the system to pay for itself by avoiding costly lawsuits worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, a majority of hospitals still balk at the cost of these tracking items, which cost approximately $8-10.
Have You or a Loved One Suffered as a Result of an RSI?
If so, you are already paying the physical and emotional costs of a highly preventable mistake the medical community agrees should NEVER happen. The Law Offices of Lee Steinberg can get you justice and ensure you are fairly compensated for additional medical treatments, lost wages, and more. Call our surgical error attorneys today for your free consultation at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800- 533-3733).