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New technology could prevent one common surgical error

In the course of operating on patients, surgeons, nurses and other health-care personnel are supposed to follow strict procedures to ensure the safety of every surgery patient. Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, like elsewhere in the country, too many surgical errors have been committed by health-care professionals despite their best intentions. These errors too often harm patients and even cost lives.

One of the most common surgical errors is unintentionally leaving sponges inside a patient's body at the end of surgery. A sponge left behind can result in complications that lead to death. Because of this, standard procedures call for sponges to be counted every time they are placed inside a patient's body. Before surgery is done, the sponges and other foreign objects are removed and counted again to make sure nothing has been left behind. According to some experts, however, current counting methods are prone to human error.

One proposed solution to preventing such accidents is to use electronic counters and sponges with bar codes that can be read even when the sponges are soaked with blood. Surgeons and other surgical personnel would then be able to with determine if something was left behind once the operation has ended.

A patient who is worse off after undergoing a medical procedure can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the health-care professionals and hospital where the surgery was performed. A successful claim will allow an injured patient to be compensated for medical costs and related expenses. Punitive damages for lost wages and pain and suffering can also be awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Can technology stop surgeons from leaving sponges inside patients," John Tozzi, March 25, 2014

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