Medical Malpractice from Retained Objects
June 7, 2015 in Articles, Personal Injury Articles | MARTIN WREN, P.C. | LEAVE A COMMENT

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Medical Malpractice from Retained Objects

Undergoing invasive surgery can be an extremely stressful and difficult ordeal.  Not only do you have to deal with the uncertainty of your medical condition, you have to address the concerns of whether the procedure will be successful.  No one goes into surgery expecting that their doctors and nurses will leave sponges, medical instruments, and other retained objects inside their surgical site.  Yet, medical malpractice from retained objects is a real risk for patients undergoing surgery.

Unfortunately, leaving behind various objects following a surgery can be a common occurrence.  It’s so common, in fact, that it has a name in the medical community: the Unintended Retention of Foreign Objects (URFO).  When retained objects have been left in a patient after surgery, the patient typically has to undergo another round of invasive surgery to locate and remove the retained object.

Leaving retained objects inside a patient following surgery can lead to a variety of medical complications.  Patients will likely develop an infection, experience intense pain and suffering, and develop foul smelling discharges from the surgery area.  Consequences could be even worse, however, as patients may experience hemorrhaging, complications with proper internal organ functioning, shock, and even death.

Objects of all types can be retained as a result of surgery.  Common examples include sponges or even towels that were placed at the surgical site, needles and other sharp objects, and medical instruments.  It may be the case that instruments and other objects are not retrieved in their entirety, as either a portion broke off or not the entire amount is removed.

Nurses and physicians should take a couple of common sense steps to make sure they don’t leave behind surgical instruments, sponges, and needles.  Healthcare providers can, for example, make sure they do “sponge counts” or “object counts” where, as a team, they know exactly how many items are placed inside a patient’s body during a surgery.  Then, when the surgery is complete, the team can check to see if the proper number and type of items have been removed.  Oftentimes the surgeon will order that a sponge count occur before the operation even happens.

In addition, healthcare providers and surgeons should engage in thorough “cavity sweeps.”  With a cavity sweep and search, physicians and nurses are to thoroughly examine the surgical cavity to ensure than nothing is left in the patient’s body at the conclusion of the operation.

For patients who have an open wound that is treated by vacuum assisted or negative pressure wound therapy (commonly known as a wound vac), healthcare providers need to be sure that the strong suction in the wound cavity has not caused the flesh to trap or cover sponges.  These types of retained sponges can be particularly problematic because the sponges become embedded to the flesh and may be difficult to see.

The unintended retention of foreign objects, though legally inexcusable, typically can be traced back to a few types of causes.  The doctors and nurses may fail to properly communicate with each other and make clear what objects were placed in the surgical wound.  Or, perhaps the hospital, outpatient center, or clinic where the surgery occurred did not have proper procedures for object counts.  Even where such procedures are in place, it may be the case that doctors and nurses did not follow procedures because of an emergency or unexpected situation that arose during the surgery.  In addition, patients with large body masses are at risk to the dangers presented by retained objects during surgery.

If you or a loved one has undergone surgery and your surgeons, interns, or nurses left behind a sponge, guaze, or other object, you may have a claim for medical malpractice.  Charlottesville medical malpractice attorney Robert E. Byrne, Jr. has experience litigating and resolving claims involving retained objects, and Bob can answer questions you may have about your legal rights.  To contact Bob directly for a free consultation, please contact him at (434) 817-3100 or by email at [email protected].

Please read Medical Malpractice Claims in Virginia if you’d like more information about medical malpractice in general.

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