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Can barcodes make one type of surgical error a thing of the past?

It is every surgical patient's worst nightmare. After your surgery is over, you find out you have a sponge, surgical screw or other foreign object in your body. Not only do you have to deal with pain, potential infection and other problems, but you will have to undergo another surgery just to get the foreign object out of your body.

Thankfully, this type of surgical malpractice is rare. According to Stryker, a medical device company, surgeons leave foreign objects in the body in 1 in 5,500 surgeries. More than two-thirds of the time, the foreign object left in the body is a sponge. The main reason for this is that as sponges absorb blood, they become indistinguishable from other parts of the body cavity. Regardless of the why sponges are left in the body after surgery, these events should never happen. It typically costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in malpractice settlements and additional surgeries to resolve these issues.

Could there be a simple fix to this problem?

Numerous companies, including Stryker, have added barcode technology to surgical sponges. As a result, it is much easier to account for all sponges used in surgery. For instance, the University of Michigan Health System incorporated barcodes into their surgical sponges, and has not had a single error since.

While these types of surgical sponges are more expensive than sponges without barcode technology, it is likely they will save hospitals money in the long run, as these sponges reduce the possibility of leaving sponges in the body after surgery. More importantly, these technological advances will limit the number of people who suffer from this preventable surgical error.

If you or someone you love has been injured by a surgeon's negligence or by some other type of medical malpractice, it is important to work closely with a skilled lawyer. The injury attorneys of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor have provided skilled, aggressive representation to individuals and families across Delaware.

Source: Damages from left-behind surgical tools top billions as systems seek end to gruesome errors, Healthcare Finance, Jeff Lagasse, May 6, 2016

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