When going in for a surgery, we put our trust in the fact that these medical professionals -- being the surgeons, doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists -- know what they are doing. Many of us even take comfort in knowing these are trained professionals who have gone through many of these surgeries time and time again.
This is why it may be particularly troubling to learn there were 772 cases of objects being left behind during surgeries between 2005 and 2012. Less than 20 of these cases led to patient death, but the overwhelming majority -- 95 percent -- did lead to patients needing extended hospital stays.
Recently, the Joint Commission published the report with these findings.
In talking about surgical errors where an object is left behind, this error is most commonly found during a routine follow-up visit or when a patient is experiencing pain or discomfort after the surgery.
In looking at what is leading to these types of errors, it is important to note that doctors and staff tend to rely on traditional methods, such as a cavity sweeps before closing up a patient and counting the tools. While effective protocols, doctors and medical staff are only human and can make mistakes. This human error is the reason behind many of the incidents involving objects left behind. In fact, according to the commission's report, in cases involving sponges being left behind, in more than 80 percent of these cases the staff really believed they counted correctly.
What this means is that more needs to be done. The Joint Commission specifically points to better communication and a culture where all staff members feel empowered to speak up when they notice an issue.
Additionally, the commission recommends adopting a more thorough counting protocol where all surgical team members are involved.