How to Keep Surgeons From Leaving Things Behind

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It may seem unthinkable, but as many as 1 out of 1,000 people who undergo abdominal surgery end up in the recovery room with a foreign object mistakenly left inside them.

In the medical community, these forgotten surgical tools are known as “retained foreign objects.” The object most commonly left behind is the surgical sponge which is used to soak up fluids during surgery. Sometimes these forgotten sponges are not discovered for years, if at all. Other times, however, they can cause grave injury down the road, which can also lead to malpractice lawsuits. (More on Why Do Black Patients Get Unwanted End-of-Life Care?)

But evidence from a recent demonstration shows that technology can provide a safety net for doctors and nurses in the operating room. National Public Radio reports that the Mayo Clinic has begun using electronic sensors to track surgical sponges. They are scanned when removed from their packaging and scanned again when they are thrown out. The system, which costs about $13 per surgery, has reduced the sponge left behind rate from about once every month or two to never, according to NPR.

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