Retained Surgical Instruments In The Operating Room

A retained surgical instrument simply means that a surgical item was accidentally left behind in a patient’s body during surgery. Such incidences are suspected to be commonly under reported and are considered to be a preventable medical error.

What types of surgical instruments are being left behind? The list of possible retained surgical instruments is large including needles, clamps, scalpels, sponges, towels, scissors, tweezers, forceps, scopes, measuring devices, suction tips and tubes, etc. A surgeon is estimated to use between 250-300 surgical tools throughout a surgery. This number can drastically increase depending on the type of surgery and length of surgery time.

The contributing factors leading to the misplacement of surgical tools left behind inside a patient’s body can vary. Many consider that human factors such as fatigue for medical staff, chaotic environments and lack of tools for the inventory process have directly resulted in the loss of expensive surgical tools.

The effect of losing a surgical instrument in a patient’s body during surgery can range from essentially harmless to life threatening. Patients can experience infections, punctured organs and blood vessels, additional surgeries and other medical complications. The effect that this type of incident can have on a hospital or healthcare facility can be very serious. This can include possible legal ramifications or a high cost in lost equipment.

There are many products that will help assist your staff in retrieving lost tools. Surgeons, nurses and technicians oftentimes use radiopaque sponges and towels. Radiopaque items can be detected by an x-ray, which presents the OR team another way of detecting lost surgical items inside a patient’s body.

Remember that leaving behind surgical tools in a patient’s body after surgery can be prevented by implementing extra safety precautions throughout your facility. If you have any questions or comments about retained surgical instruments, please let us know below!

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