It’s an all too common problem in today’s operating rooms: medical malpractice caused by retained surgical instruments, or items left inside a patient after surgery.

The causes are complicated and varied; but when 300-600 items are used in a single surgery, confusion can sometimes be unavoidable.

However, new technology might offer a solution to help prevent injuries from this common error.

Problems with Accounting for Surgical Instruments in the Past

In the past, technicians have used a method called the “count sheet” to keep up with surgical instruments. A count sheet usually looked like a large spreadsheet that had to be printed and photocopied for each technician. If a change needed to be made, someone had to find all of the copies and either make the change manually or replace the copies with a newly printed version.

Recently, records have become more computerized, so changes affect everyone’s version of the count sheet. But this still doesn’t solve the problem of needing to track what instruments are in use and whether or not they’ve been removed from the patient and sent on to be sterilized.

Bar Code Technology to Prevent Medical Malpractice

Medical technology companies have been experimenting with labeling each item electronically using bar codes. Retailers have used this technology on their inventory for years, but it can be more difficult for medical equipment.

The label has to be able to withstand regular use and the scrubbing required for sterilization. It also has to be small enough to fit on tiny instruments. Lastly, it needs to include surgical equipment that becomes medical waste after the surgery rather than being sterilized and reused.

Companies have tried laser etching, adhesive labels, and electrochemical marking. Some methods have worked better than others, but the goal is the same with each: as the items are placed into kits to be sterilized, they are scanned and tracked. If the kit is not full at the end of surgery, when it would normally be passed on to the sterilization department, the surgeon and assistants will be aware.

What This Means for Medical Malpractice Cases

Retained surgical instruments can cause serious injuries, including permanent health problems and even death. More commonly, tissue can grow around the instrument and look like a tumor, confounding doctors and causing more surgeries in the future.

So any effort to prevent this mistake from happening is wonderful news for the patient.

It also holds health care providers more accountable. Surgeons and nurses will be more aware of what may or may not be left inside a patient’s body, and there might even be a digital record of their error. If that error leads to major health problems in the future, it will be easier to find proof of what caused the injury.

As a medical malpractice lawyer in Memphis, I have seen how harmful retained surgical instruments can be. I fight for my clients to receive the compensation they need and deserve after a dangerous surgical error.

If you’ve been hurt in surgery, you should talk with an attorney about your case. Call me (901-327-1212) or contact me online to discuss your malpractice case for free.