Medical Malpractice Lawsuits for Retained Surgical Instruments
If a surgeon forgets to remove needles, scalpels, clamps, or any other tool after completing a surgery, you have suffered from a retained surgical instrument (also referred to as a retained foreign body). If a surgeon fails to remove a sponge, pad, or towel, the injury is referred to as gossypiboma. Unlike other forms of medical malpractice, RSI is always the result of negligence. It is unacceptable in the operating room.
- Puncture vital organs
- Pierce blood vessels
- Cause severe infections
- Calcify the cavity or internal walls
- Follow-up surgery to remove RSIs
How Often “Retained Surgical Item” Mishaps Occur
The issue is more common than people know, especially as one surgery uses hundreds of sponges. Retained surgical item (RSI) occurs in 1 to 3 in 5,500 to procedures annually. With more than 51 million procedures conducted a year, this represents a high number of RSIs.
Per a report by USA Today, thousands of patients each year are left with surgical items in their bodies—mostly sponges used to soak up blood and fluid during surgery. Despite these mishaps occurring regularly, few hospitals have adopted technology that can all-but-eliminate the risk of retained items. Because of this negligence, many patients suffer for years before anyone can discover the cause of symptoms such as crippling pain and internal infections. Even once the cause of the problem is determined, a retained surgical item can cause irreversible damage: some patients with this injury will lose portions of their intestines, and others may even die as a result.
While there’s no way to determine the exact number of patients who suffer, best estimates based on research studies suggest between 4,500 and 6,000 patients are injured this way annually. Federal reporting of these events is not mandatory, so exact figures are difficult to find. Healthcare professionals admit these figures may be lower than the actual rate. Retained sponges are often the most underreported incidents in healthcare, despite the fact that it is already the most common never event. The hidden nature of this issue is partially from a lack of accountability.
Easy Fixes for Serious Problems
The figures alone are staggering, but what’s far worse is that there is an easy solution readily available that hospitals are choosing not to use. Electronic tracking devices can be attached to sponges to eliminate the risk of retained items. These sponge-tracking systems only add about $8 to the cost of operation, yet fewer than 15% of American hospitals employ the technology.
For patients who bear the brunt of these hospitals’ cost-cutting decisions, the financial toll is almost as bad as the physical one—hospitalizations caused by retained surgical objects often cost more than $60,000. Hospitals save patients and costs with better safety.
Most hospitals forego sponge trackers in favor of sponge counts to keep track of their gauzy pads during surgery. The system is simple—count the number that goes in and the number that comes out. However, it is also subject to human error, meaning patient safety may be affected by a tired or distracted surgical team. By contrast, hospitals that use electronic tracking systems say they have not lost a single sponge since employing the technology. The average annual cost to a hospital for using the tracking system is between $200,000 and $300,000.
What You Can Do After an RSI Injury
Retained surgical instruments and gossypibomas can present serious health risks. A retained surgical instrument may result in an internal infection or a fibrinous response (interruption of normal clotting). Retained surgical instruments can also require both follow-up surgery to remove the object, or emergency surgery if the object causes severe internal damage or internal bleeding. If not initially noticed, retained instruments could be misdiagnosed as tumors or dangerous growth, resulting in unnecessary, costly, and invasive procedures.
These procedures are not only costly but cause undue emotional distress. In 2012, a New York Times article reported about a woman who became the victim of RSI when sponges were left in her body after a hysterectomy. The sponge caused a severe infection that required surgeons to resection her bowel. Aside from physical injury, the article reported that she suffered from anxiety, depression, and social isolation.
Gossypibomas and retained surgical items speak for themselves, providing clear evidence of negligence on the part of the surgeon, his or her team, and the hospital where the procedure took place. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a retained surgical instrument, you may be entitled to compensation. Our attorneys have been successful in holding major healthcare providers responsible for their mistakes.
Robotic Surgery Injuries Increasing in Recent Years
Robotic surgery is relatively new and has helped doctors to perform delicate surgeries without needing to factor in the possibility of human error. Per Bloomberg News, the surgeries performed by robots are spiking due to increased marketing by doctors, hospitals, and Intuitive Surgical Inc., the robot's main manufacturer, which is pushing for more use of the product. Specifically, physician and hospital websites advertise the use of robots for surgeries. Most often, the advertisements claim fewer complications and promote the use of the machines.
Issues in the Intuitive Surgical Inc. Marketing Campaign
Unfortunately, marketing campaigns ignore the fact that in some surgeries, the robots don't give any advantage. One complaint made to the Colorado Medical Board claims that 10 patients treated between 2008 and 2011 suffered some complication from robotic surgeries. These patients experienced serious injuries such as torn arteries during surgery, nerve damage, or objects being left inside the patient after surgery.
Despite these claims, the use of robots in surgery has grown by 60% since 2010. Robots are used to perform hysterectomies, gall bladder operations, prostate cancer treatments, soft tissue operations, and heart valve procedures. The FDA claims there were 70 deaths associated with robotic surgeries since 2009. The number of injuries accompanying robotic surgeries more than doubled within the first eight months of 2013.
Do You Have a Medical Malpractice Claim?
If you have been injured during surgery, you may be able to seek compensation. At Arnold & Itkin, we represent patients from coast to coast who have found themselves suffering from serious injuries. We also represent surviving family members in wrongful death claims when they have lost someone who they love. If you and your family are currently facing this situation, you should not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our firm. We have recovered billions throughout the years, including hundreds of cases worth $1 million or more; this includes record-setting verdicts and premium settlements achieved by our commitment to our clients and our aggressive approach to preparing cases. To learn more about our firm, including how we can help you, do not hesitate to get in touch with us to schedule your 100% free case review.
Contact our Houston surgical error attorneys for a free case consultation. We can help you hold negligent hospital staff accountable for your medical costs, damages, and pain.