We have all heard the phrase, "to err is human," at some point in our lives, and have found it to be true many times. While human error is inevitable, and is most often times forgiven, medical errors are preventable and unacceptable. Surgical errors have gained so much attention over the last year that new laws and policies are being implemented in an effort to cut down on these errors.
Our Kentucky readers may be aware of the risk of surgical errors, but most would be shocked to find out specific numbers and details involving the frequency of such errors. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine released a study recently that found surgeons to leave sponges, needles, gauze or other medical instruments inside of a patient around 39 times each week, which equates to over 2,000 patients per year.
Researchers of this study found that between 1990 and 2010 nearly 4,860 malpractice payments were issued in connection with items being left inside of a patient after surgery. The Department of Public Health has moved for new regulations that would allow fines to be assessed for surgical errors, even if the patient wasn't seriously harmed as a result.
From gallbladder removals to knee replacements and even cesarean section surgeries, when an item is left behind, an estimated 80 percent of the time the surgical team did not notice any missing instruments. Instead of addressing the individual team that forgot to count all of their sponges, action should be taken by hospitals to address change among their entire practice.
One step being taken to avoid leaving instruments behind is by putting barcodes on operating room utensils, which has given surgeons the ability to detect lost items by simply waving a wand over the patient. While new technologies have emerged to lessen the amount of surgical errors, as we previously stated, humans make mistakes.