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Report: Too Many Surgical Implements Are Left Behind In Patients

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The Joint Commission is urging hospitals to do more to prevent surgical instruments from being left inside a patient. (Getty Images)

The Joint Commission is urging hospitals to do more to prevent surgical instruments from being left inside a patient. (Getty Images)

CBS St. Louis (con't)

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OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. (CBS St. Louis) – A medical watchdog group warns that too often, doctors and nurses accidentally leave surgical devices inside patients…and has some ideas to prevent it from happening.

The Joint Commission says it has received over 770 voluntary reports of objects left in their body after a surgical procedure, 16 of them died.

95 percent of those patients had to receive additional medical care.

On the financial side, each time some sort of surgical implement is left inside a patient, it can cost $200,000 in medical and liability payments.

And the “unintended retention of foreign objects” (URFO) or “retained surgical items” (RSI) can cause long-term physical and emotional problems.

The most common URFOs are soft items like sponges and small or broken instruments.

“Leaving a foreign object behind after surgery is a well-known problem, but one that can be prevented,” says Ana Pujols McKee, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer of The Joint Commission.

They are urging hospitals to enact new surgical procedures to reduce URFOs.

The ideas include: carefully counting each surgical item before and after the procedure to make sure the are all accounted for,

Using intra-operative radiographs (a modified kind of X-ray machine that emits less radiation) to scan the patient after surgery,

Implementing standard procedures for opening and closing  wounds,

And allowing more communication among members of the surgical staff so that someone can speak up if he or she suspects a problem.

Researchers found the risk factors were higher for overweight patients and those who undergo multiple procedures or when hospital staff changes during the procedure.

It also found the occurrence of a URFO was nine times more likely during an emergency operation and four times more likely when a surgery procedure was unexpectedly changed.

The Joint Commission is confident that by following new guidelines, more patients can be confident that everything that went into their body during surgery comes back out again.

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