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Do doctors actually lose items inside patients during surgery?

On Behalf of | Jan 10, 2024 | Medical And Professional Malpractice

Surgical procedures are massively invasive. Doctors physically cut into someone’s body to repair damage, remove items or install an implant of some sort. The process would be incredibly painful without anesthesia, so the patient is usually unconscious.

Doctors typically try to complete surgeries as quickly as possible while following best practices as carefully as possible. Despite those efforts, thousands of surgical mistakes occur every year. Some of them are far more dangerous than others. For example, doctors may complete the procedure and close someone’s incision while there are still surgical tools inside the patient’s body.

The idea that someone might have a foreign object in their body after a surgery is the stuff of nightmares. It has also spawned countless jokes that make light of what could be a devastating experience, as people assume that modern doctors should never leave items inside a patient’s body. Are retained foreign bodies still an issue in modern medicine?

Doctors leave objects behind frequently

Most medical facilities require that surgeons account for every tool and item they bring into the operating theater. Despite these rules and the presence of multiple secondary professionals in most operating rooms, surgeons often close up incisions while people still have foreign objects in their bodies.

Gauze and surgical implements are the most likely foreign items that doctors might leave inside a patient after completing a procedure, and they may realize the mistake when filling out paperwork after the procedure. A patient with a foreign object left inside their body usually needs to undergo a second operation and could be at elevated risk of a host of complications.

Research into surgical outcomes in 2019 found that roughly one in every 5,500 surgeries result in a patient retaining foreign objects in their body afterward. Those who undergo surgery on the torso are far more likely to have a retained foreign body than those who undergo treatment on their limbs or extremities.

Retained foreign bodies can cause physical trauma to someone’s body. They could also cause infection if not removed quickly. As such, filing a medical malpractice lawsuit might be a reasonable response to those with medical costs and other challenges caused by a retained foreign object after surgery.