Surgical intervention for an illness or injury is usually the last resort to treat a condition. Surgery requires a tremendous amount of skill and experience on the part of not only surgeons, but anesthesiologists, nurses, and other allied health personnel, too.
As patients, we learn to put our trust in the highly trained and educated people who save our lives. Sometimes, though, things that should never, ever happen result in the need for a medical malpractice suit, such as when an object is unintentionally left inside a patient. This is called a “retained surgical object” and it can spell disaster for patients.
Retained Surgical Objects Are “Never” Events
All surgical personnel have protocols in place to ensure that no foreign objects are left inside a patient. The guidelines are typically so strict, in fact, that in the medical field it is often called a “never” event—meaning that it is an occurrence so well-documented and controls so rigorous that it simply should not happen to anyone. Basic protocols typically involve performing multiple counts of objects, including instruments and sponges. These counts may be performed:
- Prior to the procedure.
- Any time new objects are brought to the surgical field.
- Before closing an internal space.
- Before closing the surgical wound.
- At the end of the procedure.
Counts may also be performed any time that there is a change in certain personnel, such as the circulating or scrub nurses. But counts aren’t always reliable, either—mistakes can happen due to speed, exhaustion, or other factors. Different techniques are being tried out in some hospitals and clinics, such as bar-coded sponges that must be scanned before and after every surgery. There may be other methods that different hospitals or surgical groups use as well, but the message is clear: there are many points before, during, and after a procedure to account for surgical objects in one way or another, such that nothing should ever end up being retained inside the body of a patient.
The Risks of Retained Surgical Objects
The number one retained surgical object is the surgical sponge. Sponges are typically just a piece of sterile cotton that ranges in many sizes and shapes, but when left inside a body, they can destroy the health of a patient. Other objects that may be left behind include needles, retractors, scalpels or other blades, clamps, forceps, towels, or other items. Some of the risks of a retained surgical object include:
- Local or systemic infections (sepsis or septic shock).
- Internal adhesions or calcifications.
- Fistulas (an unnatural connection that forms between two organs or blood vessels).
- Bowel obstruction.
- Organ perforation.
- Internal bleeding or hemorrhaging.
There may be other risks that depend on what the retained object is, the procedure that was performed, and the length of time that the object is retained inside the body.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
A retained surgical objects is likely grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Medical malpractice is a form of legal tort case that alleges professional negligence. In order to prove this kind of negligence, there are three key points that you must be able to prove in court:
- Failure to follow accepted standards of care. If a health care professional fails in his or her duty to provide a level of care consistent with commonly accepted education, training, or industry guidelines, this may be grounds for proof of negligence.
- You were hurt by the negligence. You must be able to demonstrate in court that the negligence resulted in an injury that caused you serious harm.
- Your injury lead to serious damages. The injury must have also resulted in damages to you, such as severe pain, debt from the medical bills, or lost time and money due to an inability to work.
Proving these facts can be challenging in a court of law, but your attorney can help you build your retained surgical object case and help you pursue the compensation that you are owed due to this medical “never” event.
Look for an Experienced Attorney
Medical malpractice is a complex field of law, so you should seek an attorney who has extensive experience with these types of cases. The medical malpractice team at Wayne Wright LLP has spent years fighting for the rights of patients who have suffered as a result of retained surgical objects and other malpractice issues. If you’d like to talk to a legal professional in Texas about your potential case and the right to seek compensation in a court of law, call us today at 800-237-3334 for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.