With surgery, there really are no "little" mistakes

It seems simple enough. During a surgical procedure, where sponges are used, one counts all of the sponges used during the procedure. Before the incision is closed up and the surgery complete, one counts the sponges that were removed from the patient. Being basic arithmetic, the sum of the addition of the sponges that were removed should equal the number that was used. Easy enough.

But, according to a story from the USA Today, more than a dozen times a day, the math does not add up. Somehow, a sponge or two is left behind. What follows will not improve anybody's appetite. The body attacks the foreign item and often patients experience pain, swelling and a myriad of other deleterious effects from the item, often for years before the cause is discovered. These cases are always medical malpractice, as it is clearly negligence for medical personal to leave sponges, forceps and surgical equipment inside a patient's body.

Research indicates it happens up to 6,000 times per year. It extracts a terrible toll on its victims, frequently leaving them with a lifetime of ill effects.

Yet the solution is simple. A new tracking system allows the electronic tagging of sponges, so a quick scan can be used to uncover any forgotten sponges. But many hospitals have problems adopting the system, amazingly, because they cannot use the argument that stopping one medical malpractice lawsuit will pay for the equipment, because that money is in the legal budget, not the surgical budget. And these organizations complain about government bureaucracy.

It is safe to say that if do not use the system, they will be able to take the price of the system out of their legal budget. Sadly, for the next patient, the hospital still will not have the tracking system.

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