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Surgeons leave items behind in about 2,000 patients per year

The prospect of undergoing surgery is very concerning for many Michigan residents. This is a category of medical procedures with which many people are simply not very comfortable. This may be due in part to the widespread media attention to surgical errors in recent years.

While it is true that about 2,000 patients have surgical material accidentally left behind in them each year, for example, the spotlight on such problems is reportedly leading to better practices. For example, Medicare has stopped paying for the costs related to certain medical errors and Medicaid has said that it will no longer pay to fix preventable mistakes.

While these two changes may certainly put some fire behind the surgical field to encourage the institution of policies and practices to avoid mistakes, it also may put patients in a tough spot when they need to have the results of a medical error corrected. Those who are harmed by surgical or medical errors, however, can file medical malpractice lawsuits in order to obtain compensation for the associated medical expenses as well as for various damages.

Medical malpractice lawsuits are possible when the negligence of a hospital, doctor, surgeon or another medical professional is negligent and it results in harm to the patient.

In California, the state Department of Health is also considering fining hospitals or surgeons when surgical errors take place even if no patients are harmed.

Most surgical errors happen because hospitals do not have enough preventative practices in place, according to a surgeon at UC San Francisco who was interviewed for a news article. So, the changes mentioned above may certainly motivate hospitals to focus more on preventing surgical errors.

Within the field, some technologies are also emerging to help surgeons and nurses minimize errors. One promising new technology utilizes surgical sponges with barcodes on them that must be scanned at the beginning and end of surgery. This way, the operating room staff can tell if a sponge has been left behind more accurately than with the traditional counting method.

All of these things together may help surgeons avoid making errors that are dangerous to patients. It is important that the field and lawmakers continue to pay attention to this issue in order to stand up for patients' rights and safety.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Medical field works to reduce number of surgical mistakes," Anna Gorman, Dec. 23, 2012

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