Many people in Minnesota and across the nation get a little nervous at the thought of going under the knife. When being wheeled into the operating room for a surgical procedure, people put their trust and their lives in the hands of medical professionals who care for them. Surgeons, physicians and nurses are human, however, and have the potential to make mistakes. These surgical errors, otherwise known as never events, may kill and injure patients.

One type of surgical error involves equipment being left behind in a patient’s surgical site during a procedure. Surgical sponges are most frequently left behind, as they can be hard to see in the surgical site. As sponges absorb body fluids and blood, they can easily hide against body organs. In some cases, the sponges may adhere to the outside of organs and cause serious infections.

In one case, a woman who had a surgical procedure years earlier started having sharp abdominal pains. After suffering in the hospital from a critical infection, an xray revealed the presence of a surgical sponge that was left behind from her procedure. The sponge had attached to the inside of her abdominal cavity. How to accidents like these occur?

It is standard practice to perform a count of all equipment before, during and after surgical procedures. In several medical malpractice cases where objects were left behind, the surgical staff reported all equipment accounted for. Advanced technology is designed to catch these types of errors using bar code scanning. Yet, studies have yet to determine whether the new technology actually decreases the number of medical errors.