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Surgical Items Left in Patients

Surgical items displaying on table.

Every year, thousands of patients in Virginia and across the country suffer harm when medical teams negligently leave sponges, pins, instruments and other items inside of them while performing surgery. These retained surgical items or “foreign bodies” can lead to devastating consequences. Many patients suffer pain, infections, perforated organs and even death.

Leaving a surgical item in a patient is an inexcusable medical error. If you have suffered injury or lost a loved one due to a retained surgical instrument or other item, you should seek help from an experienced Virginia medical malpractice lawyer at Marks & Harrison right away. For more than 100 years, our law firm has protected the rights of injured patients and their families. We will immediately investigate your case and pursue the justice and compensation that you deserve.

Contact us now and let us provide a free consultation about your case through our office in Richmond or one of our nine other offices located throughout Virginia.

What Are Retained Surgical Items & Instruments?

Any item that a surgical team inadvertently leaves behind in a patient’s body is considered to be a retained surgical item, or RSI. As unbelievable as it may seem, this medical error frequently occurs during surgery and other invasive medical procedures. The World Journal of Surgery reports that between 1,500 to 2,000 retained surgical instrument cases occur each year in our country.

Surgical sponges are among the items that doctors and other medical professionals frequently leave behind in patients during an operation. In some cases, patients suffer harm when a fragment of an instrument breaks off in their body. Other items that surgical teams leave in patients include:

  • Needles
  • Scissors
  • Towels
  • Forceps
  • Pins
  • Scopes
  • Clamps
  • Tubes

The severity of the harm that a patient suffers depends on the type of item as well as its location and the length of time it remains inside of the patient’s body. According to a 2014 study in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, medical professionals commonly leave surgical items in the abdomen and pelvis area, chest cavity and vagina. The retained item may also migrate through the body. If doctors and nurses fail to detect the item and address the issue in a timely manner, the patient may suffer infection, sepsis, organ perforation, fistula (unnatural connection of two organs or vessels), obstruction or death.

For many patients, the discovery of the retained surgical item marks the beginning of a long process. The patient typically will require an additional surgery to remove the item and address complications. The patient may require extensive hospitalization and numerous follow-up visits. In addition to physical pain and suffering, the patient may also experience a great deal of emotional distress.

Why Do Surgical Instruments Get Left Behind in Patients?

The Joint Commission, a non-profit that accredits and certifies health organizations in the U.S., found that retained surgical item cases often result from situations that involve:

  • Patients with a high body mass index
  • Emergency or urgent surgical procedures
  • Performance of intraabdominal surgery
  • Unexpected changes or complications during the surgery
  • More than one surgical procedure being performed
  • Multiple surgical teams or staff turnovers during the operation.

All of these situations present challenges for doctors, nurses and other members of the surgical team. They can be stressful and fast-paced. However, the difficulty of circumstances does not excuse leaving a surgical item inside of a patient’s body. Indeed, some of the preventable causes of retained surgical instruments are:

  • The failure of a hospital or clinic to put a procedure in place for counting and tracking surgical items
  • The failure of a surgical team to follow adopted procedures, including miscounting items such as sponges
  • Breakdowns in communication between members of the surgical team
  • Incomplete or inadequate training of team members.

One study published in 2012 found that the use of radiofrequency detection systems can be highly effective when it comes to tracking surgical items such as sponges. These systems use chips that are sewn into the sponges that can be tracked. However, many hospitals fail to take advantage of this technology, or they lack the funding to use this system or other advanced tracking systems.

How Can a Virginia Medical Malpractice Lawyer Help You?

Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals owe their patients a duty to meet a recognized standard of care. When they fail to fulfill that duty, patients and their families have a right to seek full and fair compensation for the harm they suffer, including funds that cover:

  • Additional surgery and hospitalization
  • Medication
  • Follow-up hospital visits
  • Therapy and rehabilitation
  • Related mental health counseling and other treatment
  • Lost income and diminishment of future earning ability
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress.

Our Virginia disability benefits lawyers discuss qualification requirements for disability benefits in Virginia.If you believe that you or your loved one suffered harm due to a retained surgical instrument, Marks & Harrison will provide a free review of your case. If we agree to work together, our Virginia medical malpractice lawyers will conduct a thorough investigation of your case. We will review medical records, interview witnesses, inspect surgical equipment and take many other steps as part of that investigation. Our goal will be to determine not only why the surgical instrument was left behind but also to identify who should be held responsible for it. For instance, the members of the surgical team could be held liable as well as the hospital or clinic where the surgery took place.

Our legal team will work hard to prepare your case for a settlement. However, if necessary, we will be ready to take your case to trial and fight for your rights in the courtroom. We are highly experienced trial lawyers who know what it takes to litigate even the toughest medical malpractice cases.

Contact a Virginia Retained Surgical Item Attorney Today

Under Virginia law, you have only a limited period of time in which you can bring a medical malpractice claim. So, you should not delay getting legal help if the negligence of medical professionals caused a surgical item to be left behind in you or your loved one.  Marks & Harrison is ready to go to work for you today. Call or reach us online to schedule a free and confidential consultation through our office in Richmond or through one of our nine other Virginia offices.

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