Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Joint Commission alert regarding surgical errors

Pittsburgh residents who are scheduled to undergo a medical procedure may be concerned about a recent release from the Joint Commission. The accrediting agency that qualifies hospitals for Medicare issued a sentinel event alert regarding foreign objects being left inside patients after surgery. This is the most common sentinel event reported by the Joint Commission, and medical malpractice attorneys have been calling for action to be taken in this area.

Sponges are the most common foreign object left inside patients, and dozens of them are used in most surgical operations. Medical teams can find it hard to spot them when they become covered in blood, and a simple count is usually the only safeguard in place. A sponge left inside a patient can become infected and cause catastrophic complications.

While counting sponges has a 10 to 15 percent error rate, another solution is available. Tagging surgical instruments and sponges with a bar code has been shown to greatly cut down on human error, and the technology would only add a $15 cost to the procedure. The system uses a wand to scan the patient, and a beep indicates that a foreign object is present. However, 85 percent of hospitals do not use the system. The Joint Commission urges hospitals to employ more stringent counting systems, but they stop short of recommending the use of new technology.

Simple mistakes in an operating theater can have serious consequences, and an inexpensive solution to one of the most common errors is welcome. However, hospitals appear reluctant to impose changes that will even marginally increase costs. Hospitals that allow for these sentinel events to occur are leaving themselves open to malpractice lawsuits.

Source: Forbes, "The Nauseating Mistake Hospitals Make And The $10 Fix They Scrimp On", Leah Binder, October 24, 2013

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Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.
20 Stanwix Street, Seventh Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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