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Do surgeons really leave items inside patients?

Scissors, towels, clamps, tweezers, masks and gloves—what do all of these things have in common? They are among the objects that get left inside patients during surgery across Louisiana and the U.S., according to ThoughtCo. How often does this happen? Between 4,500 and 6,000 times a year.

This information is reported by ThoughtCo., who lists the most common objects as:

  •          Sponges and towels
  •          Scissors and scalpels
  •          Towels, masks and gloves
  •          Clamps and needles
  •          Tubes and forceps

What’s more, some of these objects are quite large, including a 13-inch retractor with a sharp blade and a 6-inch metal clamp. To be fair, sometimes these surgical tools get moved out of plain sight, and may be obscured by an organ. Surgeons can use as many as 250 instruments during surgery, which makes it hard to keep track of each item. The majority of items mistakenly left inside patients are needles and sponges, which are used to absorb blood while the doctor is operating. They take on the appearance of their surroundings and it’s hard to spot them when they look like other tissue in the body 

The danger posed by left-behind objects can include internal bleeding, infection, obstruction, damage to internal organs and death. They can also require lengthy hospital stays and, of course, another surgery to retrieve the implement.

Some hospitals report they are having success with a new sponge-tracking technology that includes a barcode that is scanned before and after surgery to ensure each one used is accounted for. Another tracking method is the use of sponges tagged with radio-frequency data that can be picked up by x-ray while the patient is still in the operating room.

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